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.


Game On: 5 Ways to Make Your Shopping Experience Funner

When I first saw Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk about how “gaming can make a better world,” I struggled with the concept. It was akin to my experience with Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s approach to turning work into a game. Both of these ideas were new to me and it took a while to sink in. But then it hit – they are all onto something.

Take a few minutes to watch Jane’s presentation.

I want to throw out a challenge to you – how can you turn your current shopping experience into something fun? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Several of the grocery stores around town highlight the money a customer saves, but the experience is less than exciting. Typically this involved the checker circling the amount you saved on the bottom of your receipt and then handing it to you. So what! Now, what if you had some fun with this. Perhaps you add a big screen to your register that makes a major deal out of the saving a customer gets. Perhaps you plus this up with levels of savings.
  2. Staying with the “savings” idea, why not create a savings leader of the day board where you track which customer saved the most money that day. Award the top three customers with a gift card or another special gift. Remember, it does not have to be a large amount, you’re simply trying to make them feel special. You could push this out even further by tracking the daily winners across an entire month where you then make an even bigger deal out of the monthly finalists. Take their photos and put them on a wall with the amounts they saved. Not only will you be making the check out experience funner, you will also be reinforcing your value image.
  3. Remember the balloon pop game that you played at the carnival as a kid? You know, the one with darts; you threw the dart, hopefully popped a balloon and then got the prize under/in the balloon? Why not replicate this game or come up with something like it where customers get an opportunity to participate every time they shop your store or when they spend a certain amount?
  4. Make a special game for the kids. Depending upon your type of business, many times shoppers end up bringing their children with them. Take advantage of this situation and show the parents that you care about their kids too. Hold coloring contests, set up a treasure hunt, or play trivia over your PA system.
  5. Create a secret club and for your most loyal shoppers. The secret part is absolutely critical. Why? First, it helps your these customers feel a special sense of achievement. Second, think about the power of reverse psychology – by telling your secret club members not to talk about the club, they will be way more likely to talk about it. Reward them with a special club card and give them exclusive benefits when they shop with you. What might those special benefits be? It can be about anything – special hours, extend sale dates/hours/days, free items, etc. Talk to your shoppers and find out what rewards would really matter to them.

These are simply five ideas to help you get started. Look at your store, your customers, and the opportunities you have to turn a boring or routine shopping experience into something fun. What could you do without spending any additional money or for a small investment? What if you had a moderate or large amount of money to invest in making your business fun, what would you do?

Starbuck’s Gets It: Do You?

If there is a company out there that fully understands how to build community and generate excitement among their fans, it has to be Starbucks. A couple weeks ago I received an email from them announcing that one of their seasonal signature favorites was about to be launched again. Let’s see, Fall is on the way. Have you figured out what it is yet?

Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte

Continue reading “Starbuck’s Gets It: Do You?”

Emotion vs Efficiency: SBM 101

father and son work on a classic carHave you ever become angry when your computer booted up a little slower than usual or when a traffic jam delayed your trip home an extra ten minutes? Admit it. Most of us have placed greater importance upon our time than we have the actual quality of the experience. We live in an efficiency culture. There is no getting around this; however, my real question is what costs does efficiency come with and are there opportunities for marketers to take advantage of.

Efficiency is essential. Is it really?

  • You can get a decent cup of coffee at McDonalds in about 2 minutes.
  • An oil and filter change takes about 15 minutes at Jiffy Lube.
  • Netflix allows you to serve up a movie via your “watch instantly” queue in under 45 seconds.
  • If you are a reader (and I hope you are), Apple, Barnes and Noble and Amazon all allow you to download a new book and start reading it in less than 30 seconds.

It is amazing to think just how efficient technology and the amazing companies that know how to use it well have made our lives easier. It’s a big deal too. Many of us spend more time working and commuting to/from work than we did just ten years ago. With less time to devote to our families, passions, hobbies and other personal pursuits. Businesses that help us save a little time become valued friends. I can’t tell you how much time Amazon has saved me over the years.

But at what costs?

I’d venture to say that all of the efficiencies come at a some cost. I recently visited a local bookstore just to browse their selection. It was the most relaxing thing I had done in a while. Not only was it relaxing, there was the sensory experience that came with it. The smell of the old books. The feeling of discovery that came from pulling books off the shelf and thumbing through their pages. The comfy lounge chair that sat in the corner of the shop. The creek of the old wood floors.

The bookstore had its own coffee bar. It took ten minutes to get a cup, but the wait was worth every second of it. I got to watch it being made by a quirky barista with dreadlocks and tattoos. Her voice was raspy and filled with the wise laughter that comes from a well-lived life. The aroma of the coffee mixed with that of the books.

Can Amazon or McDonalds deliver this type of experience? What happens when consumers wake up and realize what they have lost in the pursuit of more?

Do you have memories from your childhood of working in the garage with your father – a regular oil change became an opportunity for fathers and sons to bond. In many ways, it was a right of passage and now fathers and sons sit in a smelly lobby waiting for the car to be done. What is meaningful about that?

At what costs have we so easily allowed efficiency to replace our inefficiencies? Will consumers ever push back and want to return to simpler times? Will the current economy force us to rethink our current system?

Where marketing is missing to point.

We live in a world where everyone seems to be moving at the speed of light. We strive to get more done in less time. We sacrifice experience for speed, hoping to amass extra time somewhere in order to spend it doing something we “really want to do” only to end up sitting in front of the television fighting off exhaustion that comes with modern life.

As business people and marketers we seem to be constantly looking for ways to make our customer’s shopping or service experiences more efficient – faster checkout, faster downloads, lower costs, speedier service. Is this really what they want or is there an opportunity to use inefficiency as a way to create deep, meaningful experiences with customers and to help them find ways to create amazing stories in their own lives? Could you rethink your business and figure out a way to do this?

The music industry has suffered through years of decreasing sales and one hit wonders. They’ve created a model where they serve up the latest talent, milk them for what they are worth, and move onto the next band. We are bombarded with new CD releases every week from bands we’ve never heard of and really never feel connected to. Concerts have been transformed into impersonal, cheap food, over-priced, sell to the masses big stadium events where we end up watching a big screen television because the artist is a speck in the distance.

Digital downloads are definitely the way to go, but could the concert experience be changed in order to maximize profits while creating an experience fans will relish and really talk about? What if bands gave up on the big stadium events and moved their concerts to smaller venues where they can take advantage of scarcity and profit from more expensive ticket prices. Instead of spending one night in town, they could stage three or four concerts and take advantage of word of mouth, sell way more merchandise, and develop great relationships with those fans that come night after night.

Think of the last restaurant you went to. Did you feel rushed? Was your waitress in a hurry to get you out of the door so the next couple could get your table? Or, were you encouraged to stay, enjoy the food, chat with the waitress, have a couple extra drinks and wrap up your evening as the restaurant was about to close up for the night?

Inefficiency matters

Often times marketing programs and campaigns are built around the measurable. I would agree that we should measure whenever and whatever we can. But this mindset has its limits. How do we measure love or happiness accurately? Can we adequately measure a customer’s loyalty with a simple NPS score?

There are companies out there that have placed inefficiencies above efficiencies. They still measure where they can, but at the end of the day they are way more interested in creating a relationship with their customers. They aren’t stupid in how they deploy this strategy. They still measure. They still are profit oriented. They still make changes when the situation dictates. They understand that the long-term relationships are much more important to their long-term viability, growth and sustainability than short-term profits.

I spent an afternoon in a coffee shop not long ago working on a few things. The entire time I watched for the efficiencies and inefficiencies. If you went into this place with an efficiency scorecard, you’d probably want to shut it down. And you would have missed the real-life, business lessons that were going on. The gal running the place talked to everyone. In fact, she knew quite a few of the people that walked into the place. She was slow and methodical as she worked on people’s orders. It is a place where inefficiency has become an art form and their customers love it. It is place where you can kick back and relax. The coffee is spectacular. The ambiance is what it should be – calm, quite music plays in the background, local artwork adorns the walls, and the furniture begs to be sat in.

Help build memories.

Walk into almost any auto parts store and what do you see? They all carry the same products sitting on the same shelving sold by annoyed grease monkey surrounded by the same NASCAR decor. Why? Why not reach back in time and help customers remember what it was like to help their fathers out in the garage? Why not inspire them to create their own memories with their children? Could they invest some money in a classroom where they teach inspired fathers how to perform some of their basic auto maintenance tasks on their own?

Almost any food related business can benefit by engaging their customers differently than they do today. Why be in a hurry to get customers out of the door? Those who want to will find a way; however, you local customers want more. Why not offer them something your competitors never will? Get them involved in menu selection. Hold classes and teach them how to be better cooks. Ask them what they would like to see. Spend time talking to them and find ways to make your shopping experience much more pleasant and inviting.

Why not help customers slow down their lives and create the memories we all long for? Are there things you could do within your business that could become meaningful experiences instead of conveniences?

Thanks for reading,

Jason's Signature

Brand Simple

globe with brand names on itThere seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to branding. The first turns the whole process into an abstract and rather complex procedure, mired in mystery, complex formulas, and expensive agencies. No doubt, there is a time and place for this type of branding. If you are big company with lots of political issues at stake, perhaps this is the better route for you to go.

The second way is the one that many small businesses have to depend on. With little or no budgets to be had, they have to be resourceful and take matters into their own hands. More importantly, the second way requires a team effort, one where the owner or manager works hand in had with her team to identify 1) what they need to become in order to succeed, 2) what needs to happen throughout the organization in order to reach their goals, and 3) what each person on the team will be responsible for as they work toward that goal.

The next step in the process is where many companies fail in their branding efforts. After going through these first three steps you end up with a number of great ideas. The worse thing you can do is to try and implement most or all of them. Instead, the leader needs to take the list and prioritize. She needs to figure out which ideas will reap the greatest benefit, list them in order of importance, and start with item number one on the list. The team then focuses on step one and they continue to work on it until it becomes engrained in the company culture.

Let’s assume that you were working with your team and you were trying to figure out what needed to happen in order to achieve a reputation as the friendliest store in town. You sit down with your team and come up with a bunch of ideas together – smile and greet everyone, offer free gift wrapping, thank them for shopping with you, etc. From here you prioritize and decide that being kind to your customers is the simplest idea and it would produce the largest potential results in the shortest amount of time. Perfect. Now you and your team has to focus on that objective.

A few tips: As you make progress, it is okay to move onto the next goal on your list; however, put your list of ideas into a training rotation that you cycle back through every six months. Keep the list simple – focus on 6-8 actionable and measurable goals. Have fun with them. Also remember to make your list a main focus of your new hire training.

Let’s sum this up:
1. Select a focus: What do you want to be known for?
2. Engage your team and get them involved in answering this question along with actionable goals.
3. Prioritize your action list.
4. Focus on the actions that will make the biggest difference first.
5. Measure your success and make adjustments along the way.
6. Cycle back through your list every six months and make the list an integral part of your new hire training.

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

Cause Marketing and Your Business (SBM 101)

obesityWhat cause or causes are you involved in on a personal level? How about on a business level? Do you have a focus or are your efforts spread thin? As I have mentioned, having a focus can benefit your cause marketing efforts immensely. Not only will you be able to make a larger impact, you will also have a much better story to tell.

A Major Problem Worth Exploring

One powerful way to select a cause is to watch societal trends and identify issues that strike you. One that jumps out to me has been America’s obesity rates, particularly those among children.

In general, the statistics are scary. A recent article from the New York Times indicated that Americans are getting fatter instead of leaning up. Despite the wealth of knowledge we have about the impact obesity has on our lives and society, people seem to be content with living lives fraught with medical problems, such as increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and the astronomically high medical bills that come with them.

The Times article quoted a dollar amount that should concern us all. They estimated that obesity costs us as a nation around $147 billion dollars a year. Folks, that’s billions, not millions. Here in the West, we seem to be a little healthier, falling into the 15-20% obesity range. But this is nothing to be proud of.

What can businesses do with this?

If you are a food-related business this is your opportunity to shine. We have a problem and it isn’t going to go away soon. As more and more focus is placed on this issue, do you want to be seen as a solution or as part of the problem?

Why not do any or all of the following?

  • Offer healthy meal solutions
  • Offer healthy snack alternatives
  • Start a rewards program for eating healthy
  • Run an educational campaign in your store
  • Partner with local businesses and offer them healthy solutions
  • Teach health eating classes
  • Take a giant leap and reduce to junk food offerings
  • Partner with local elementary schools and run an educational program and fitness program/contest

You don’t have to be in the food industry to jump on board with this cause. Just be a little creative and do something.

There are a number of remarkable people that are working on this issue. Jamie Oliver comes to mind. He took the TED prize last year and has been working feverishly to make a difference in this area. Michelle Obama has also made childhood obesity a major emphasis of her efforts.

Regardless of your politics, there is a problem and these people recognize that something has to be done to solve it before it grows to epidemic proportions.

Maybe obesity or childhood obesity isn’t your cup of tea. So what is? What could you be doing or getting involved in that can make a difference in your local community, the state you live in, the nation, or even the world.

Never underestimate your ability to positively impact the world.