Efficiency Vs. Emotion: One Last Thought

Woman standing at the grocery checkout

Update: I have been in the process of moving to a new server. Though I am experiencing a few glitches, the move is almost complete. You can start following me at jwsokol.com/scc/. Though I have a few more posts scheduled here, I hope to have my blog completely moved and running soon. I hope to see you there.

Today’s Post

As a teenager, my first job ever was as a bagger for a local grocery story. It was an interesting job and it played a big role in who I am today. But back then I was just an impatient, naive teenage that didn’t have much knowledge of the business world. There were lessons to be learned all around me and luckily I had several great friends and mentors back then that helped me understand what great customer service looks like.

For me, it was always about being quick. My job was to get our customers’ grocery orders bagged as quickly as possible and then get them to their cars as quickly as possible. In my mind, this is what produced happy customers. But this wasn’t always the best solution.

We had a checker named Sharon. She was an older lady and she had to of been one of the most social people I knew back then. She used to drive me nuts. She talked to everyone and as a result, she was incredibly slow. But there was a lesson to be learned.

Our customers lined up to go through her register. Those customers that were in a hurry simply skipped her line and went to another, but more often than not, they chose to go through Sharon’s line. Back then, I didn’t understand why this was so important, but it has become glaringly apparent in today’s stack ’em deep, sell ’em cheap world.

What matters more to you?

  • Genuine social interaction or robot-like repetition
  • Speed and efficiency or minor inconveniences
  • Quantity or quality

Take a close look at your business and try and discover if you are truly focused on what matters most. If you care about people and about developing deep, meaningful relationships with your customers, then you might want to reconsider becoming overly focused on efficiency.


Developing A Social Media Plan

The other day I set up a facebook fan page for a project I have been working on. It is a nice feeling when you step back and realize that you joined the ranks of tens of thousands of other businesses that are also on facebook. Have you ever looked closely at what some of your competitors are up to? If you have, you might have noticed something interesting.

Take a look around facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. and see what your competition is up to. You’ll probably discover some that I did as well – social media is full of businesses who have fallen into the “me too” trap. They are there simply because their competitor is there and because of this most business social efforts are completely lame.

There’s no doubt that most businesses can benefit from social media in some way. But you should think carefully about how it will benefit you and in what ways you are willing to truly engage your customers.

All Hands On Deck Marketers

His name is Terry. He works as a checker at a local grocery store named Dick’s Market in Bountiful, Utah. He is a one of the kindest people I have ever met. I first heard about him around six months ago and then I had an opportunity to meet him. Terry lived up to every expectation I had. So what makes him so wonderful?

Terry is surrounded by an amazing team of people that have been working incredibly hard to make a difference in their local community. He heard what they were up to and decided that he wanted to do something to make a difference. He had no budget. No one knew what he was up to. But he found a way.

Terry was already known for his kindness, but he needed something more. So he started cutting coupons out of his local paper and brought them with him to work. He has a paper route on the side and often there are leftover papers. These became another coupon resources for him.

As customers came through his line and Terry noticed that they had items he had coupons for, he would whip out the corresponding coupons and hand them to the customers. Think about the impression this leaves in today’s economy. Here is this guy who is doing something special for them. It might only amount to a $0.25 or $0.50 savings, but it is the act that matters. In those short few moments, he has made an impression and a connection unlike most in retail.

Now think about what you could achieve with a team full of Terrys. Remember, no one asked him to do this. He simply saw a need and acted on it. More often than not, business success in today’s economy comes down to having an ability to connect with your customers. Every single member of your team, no matter what capacity they operate in, has an impact on your customers. It is more important than ever to recruit, train, reinforce, promote and reward quality team members than ever before.

What are you doing to hire the right people? How are you training them to ensure they prove the best customer service possible? Do you empower them to care for your customers when they run into problems?

What are you doing to matter?

Jason's Signature

P.S. You can actually see Terry in the video below. He’s about midway through.

Back To Basics

Hi there. Does this sound familiar?

  • Customer counts are down.
  • They aren’t spending as much.
  • They are more deal driven than every.
  • Yet they expect more than ever!

It does not look as if the economy is going to rev itself back to normal anytime soon and if you are a small business owner, you are probably feeling the pressures. The tricky part of this situation is that the best businesses seem to be stepping up their tactics. Now you have to do something.

First of all, don’t overeact and fall into the trap of becoming reactionary. Go back to your core. Take a look at your vision, mission and values. Now pick a few key items to work on. Don’t do ten. Seven is too many. Just focus on two or three and do them better than anyone.

As you are trying to decide what actions to pick, you will be best served by selecting actions that will make the largest impact on your business in the shortest amount of time. This might sound silly, but what if your customer services sucks and you keep hearing about it from your customers. Let’s say that that the first thing you want to focus on is smiling. If this is the case, drive this initiative home. Get your team involved and share your vision. Talk about the solutions. More importantly, explain why this is so important.

What you choose does not have to be fancy. Just make sure it is genuine and that it actually helps you move forward with your business strategy.

Jason's Signature

Marketing Via Education (SBM 101)

Small Business Marketing 101Remember those old movies where the kids pass the pet store and there in the window sat the cutest puppy you’d ever seen? The kids beg their parents and eventually leave the store with the dog. The family was happy because they just added a wonderful pet to the family. The pet store owner was also happy because he made a sale. The transaction ended there and this is where many smart retailers are changing their ways to make sure that customer comes back.

Now imagine for a minute that the pet store owner spent 10 minutes talking to the parents and children, explained to them what to expect when they get their puppy home; handed them a few “getting started” brochures and then invited them back to the store the following Saturday for a puppy training class he will be teaching free of charge every other weekend. In those ten minutes, the retailer started solidifying the bonds between he and his customers.

The parents know he cares. They understand that he genuinely wants to help them through the difficult tasks involved in bringing home a new puppy. What are the benefits to the pet store owner? He has a relationship with his customers and because of that they will continue to do business with him throughout the dog’s life and may even return to purchase another puppy.

All this retailer is doing is taking time to educate his customers. As it turns out this is one of the most powerful marketing tools around, especially if you are interested in increasing customer loyalty and long-term, sustainable growth.

Educational marketing goes on all the time:

  • Whole Foods, Wegmans and many other grocery stores use in-store cooking demonstrations in order to teach customers how to cook, make meal suggestions, and share product recommendations. Here in Utah, Macey’s and Harmon’s stores seem to be having great success with their programs.
  • Apple uses education in a myriad of ways. In their retail stores, they offer free classes to help customer learn about their Apple hardware and software. You can also find the Genius Bar in their stores where an Apple expert can help you troubleshoot your product. Their website offers hundreds of videos about all of their products, as well as numerous discussion boards where you can post questions and get answers from Apple representatives or the Apple community.
  • REI offers a wide variety of classes each week on everything from avalanche safety to kayak basics.
  • Inkley’s, a local camera shop, offers free photography classes to customers that buy new cameras.

And don’t forget about the teaching that can be going on throughout a sales transaction. This was something that Circuit City team members were renowned for back in the company’s heyday (long before they went bankrupt). The sales transaction is an opportunity to recommend products and up sale where appropriate. This doesn’t need to feel like a sleazy or forced process. Well trained sales people can do this in a subtle manner, often by quickly building a trusting relationship in the few short minutes they have with a customer.

Corporate Speak: Lose It

Using plain language in presentations, ad copy and other business setting is important. Customers want to know they are dealing with companies that are honest. Using corporate speak is associated with dishonesty and avoiding responsibility. Using plain language shows that you are being honest and open.

The entire Apple iPhone 4 debacle was a lot of fun to watch and it was also a valuable lesson in how to handle controversy. Steve Job pulled off a remarkable press conference, first announcing the free iPhone case offer for customers that wanted them and then he pulled off the impossible. Here’s the announcement:

In the course of the press conference, Gates boldly changed the course of the entire debate. The iPhone 4 was not perfect; however, according to Gates, no smartphone is. He want on to explain that they all have similar issues with antenna and reception. The science behind antenna design is far from perfect. Later on, videos of iPhone competitors popped up on YouTube demonstrating similar flaws in other phones.

Apple was not perfect. They made a bunch of mistakes in how they handled this issue. As a result, they took a beating in the press and probably slowed confidence for a short time (they will gain it back though).

Jobs used common language. Here is how Apple resesitated itself. Jobs took the stage and spoke very clearly about the problem and then just as clearly, he shifted the focus away from apple. He won the debate by using simple language and terms that we all understood.

Other companies and PR teams still have not learned this lesson. Now compare Jobs’ response to those of several companies that tried to come up with their own response once the tables had turned on them:


“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.

Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.

In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”


Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.

– Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie

In both cases, it sounds like lawyers wrote the responses. Instead of dealing with the real issue straight up and admitting in a straight forward manner that all smartphones have antenna problems, both companies seem to still want to avoid the real issue.

5 Customer Loyalty Lessons from Great Companies

Small Business Marketing 101As you thought about the businesses you love, what came to mind? What did they do that earned your trust and love?

As I considered the brands and companies I love most, a few things came to mind:

  • Zappos shirt - 50kThe Puppy Lounge – They are a business that knows how to care for people and puppies. They care about about providing a service that goes far beyond puppy sitting.
  • Osprey – They make great outdoor equipment. Okay, that is understating it. These guys make the best packs around. They have spent the time necessary to make equipment that is innovative, beautiful and won’t let you down.
  • Nike – I have been buying Nike running shoes since I was about 20 years old. They make great shoes, but they don’t stop there. Nike tells an amazing story, one that the athlete in us yearns for.
  • Beans and Brews – They make great coffee, love doing it, and love taking care of their customers even more.
  • Apple – Beautifully designed products that work every time and are easy to use.
  • Food Network – Amazing food shared by a number of remarkable people.
  • So You Think You Can Dance – The art of the human body shared by a group of remarkably passionate people.
  • IDEO – Passionate people bringing innovation to life.
  • Zappos – Delivering wow by providing the world’s best customer service.

What resonates? What can we take away from companies like these? Here is what I would say:

  1. At the heart of all these businesses are passionate people who love what they are doing.
  2. They are human and believe in treating their customers with dignity and respect.
  3. They make great products or provide remarkable services.
  4. None of them market to the masses.
  5. They are all extremely profitable (even in the midst of the worst recession in history).