‘Social Media’

Now that is a term that confuses, frightens, angers and generally irritates that hell out of too many people. (And I don’t blame you for any of those feelings.)

But let me pose a question that you should try think about in your business.

The Background

An American traveling to Toronto arrived by Canada’s Porter Airlines. This chap was seriously impressed with Porters’ service and sent out a note via Twitter how great that service was. (For full size image click here)

Social Media

But?

But here is the thing. I was not being fair when I opened this up with just the words ‘an American’.

That ‘American’ was Mr. Peter Shankman. If you don’t know of Mr. Shankman, he publishes a very popular newsletter titled Help A Reporter Out or HARO, that connects journalists with possibles sources for articles they are writing. That newsletter, (at least the last I heard) has about a hundred thousand readers. Oh and Twitter? as of this writing just over ninety-one thousand people follow Mr. Shankman there.

The SMB Takeaway

Mr. Shankman had a great experience with Porter airlines and chose to let close to 100,000 people know of it. On its own? great (and free!) word of mouth advertising.

But what if Mr. Shankman has been seriously ticked off by your business?

Would you even know if someone told one hundred thousand other people that your business or service  sucks?

Would you even have a clue that a possibly momentous event just happened?

Answer that question. And ask yourself if maybe you should be listening.

As I stated in the opening sentence, I don’t blame you for the confusion or frustration that the term ‘social media’ can give rise to. But sometimes? Ignorance is not bliss.

Unless you are living under a rock, you have heard about the situation where a JetBlue flight attendant lost his temper at the years of boorish behaviour and abuse he’d taken and quite dramatically quit his job.

I  don’t want to rehash that here.

Our Behaviour

I ask you; why do so many of us feel that customer service staff are our personal pinata’s to beat and smash at will?

Here are two incidents I have witnessed just in the past few weeks.

1) A suite in my office complex houses a customer service desk for a government department. Now we can make all government service jokes we want, but I watched flabbergasted as a woman chewed the head off of a service staffer because she thought the signage on the building was not big enough!!

She then called a supervisor, yelled, screamed and went into some more histrionics and stated she was going to escalate this ‘incident’ right to her member of parliament.

Excuse me?

Because she perceived that the signage on the building was not big enough? Yell and scream at staff? I believe that any reasonable individual (assuming there are any of us left) would agree that the staffer at the front desk has truly negligible input on the building signage. I can just imagine;  “Hi this is Elliot in customer service – can we re brand the Goodyear blimp and hang it over the building please??”

That is just being an ignorant asinine individual – period.

2) I was behind an individual at a retailer – that individual ripped apart the cashier because some product was out of stock.

Man – that must be some critically important part of your life if you feel screaming and yelling at the 16 year old part time student at the cash register is required.

I am truly certain that young woman at the cash has complete input and visibility into that retailers supply chain and stocking processes.

(forgive the sarcasm)

As a historical note, in the mid ’90’s I worked customer support under contract to a large software company and experience some of that bull crap myself.

Customer Service

Yes – we can all understand that we dislike some below par service we have experienced – I am no different.

When it happens – make your opinion known – make it known logically and reasonably.

But leave the bloody vitriol, ignorance and boorish behaviour at home. I know I sure as hell don’t want to listen to you – and I bet that staffer does not either.

Rant over

Book Review: ReWork

August 5, 2010

I recently read ReWork by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals.ReWork

(published by Crown Books ISBN 9781407062853)

Let me say it; A must read for every entrepreneur and SME business manager! I say that because to effectively cover this book – I would have to rewrite it all here word for word!

Rather than being written as a lecture or treatise, each chapter is a loose federation of points, with each point dedicated to one thought, and each thought is a only a couple of pages.

Some of these lessons you have heard before, for example, on Competitors; Who cares what they are doing?

But under Promotion; Out teach your competition is one example of brilliance. Or on Progress; Throw less at the problem

You may not agree with every point. But if you have to defend your argument – you win both ways.

Personally? I don’t think so. But lets back up for one second.

There are arguments that if your business is relying on frameworks of Best Practices, that it is too late for you – you are a dead business walking.

The argument is a valid one too. By definition best practices are practices that others have already done, practices that someone else has already codified. So the argument is;  if you are only doing what everyone else has already done, by definition you are not making any leap to Next Practices, meaning improvement, innovation or ideas that change the game and bring competitive advantage and growth.

One Mistake?

I believe that there is one mistake in that argument. Because I believe that both best practices and next practices are required.

Ask your self some questions. In your business;

How do you generate revenue? What is your core competency? What is the expertise that people or businesses pay you for? And what are your strategic goals?

In my opinion these questions will drive where best practices are applicable, and where next practices should be looked at.

Next Practices

Innovation, improvements or these  Next Practices should be looked at in all facets of your business value proposition, or your core. As one example; if you are a manufacturing organization, innovation in your core could include new and improved materials, new techniques, novel approaches to supply chain management etc.

Successful next practice innovation in these areas could lead to new lines of business, lower material or manufacturing costs that allow entry into new markets – any one of a number of strategic options.

Best Practices

For our manufacturing organization mentioned above – tell me, what value is there in pursuing next practice innovation in their payroll process? That compilation of tasks that go from time sheet to paycheck?

I would argue; Not much.

This payroll process may be performed in house, through an outsourced partner, or combination of the two. But for this process, best practice to reduce cost and increase efficiency is the way to go.

If your organization is a payroll processing supplier? Then that is your core – for you, looking at next practice innovation makes sense.

A Real Example?

Look at Apple! (AAPL) the iPod, iPad & iPhone are cherished as innovative and beautiful products. But guess what? Apple does not manufacture them! Their core is the design and the idea, and the operating system, plus the network environment such as iTunes. Apple defines next practice in all of these areas.

But manufacturing?

Best practice for them is to outsource to manufacturing partners who can do the job.

So the next practice for these outsource partners is too keep up with new materials, techniques and processes that allow them to say; “sure we can do that!” when Apple comes calling with the next big idea.

The Takeaway

In your core revenue generating processes – standing still is no longer an option. Next practices that move the strategic bar are absolutely necessary.

But for reducing friction costs and improving efficiencies in those non core processes?

Can you think of a good reason to reinvent the wheel?

Why Reinvent The Wheel?

Photo Credit Lady AnnDerground via flickr

Encouraging Mediocrity

June 9, 2010

Forgive the language – but here in Ottawa there has been a shitstorm of controversy.

Here is the short form of the story;

1) Ottawa little league soccer creates a mercy rule that states when teams get 5 goals ahead of their opponent, they should stop scoring goals.

2) If the team does not go easy enough – and score another  goal – they automatically lose the game!

(does that count for own-goals too?)

Imagine doing this in business?

Team A is pulled from the account because they kick butt??

Go to the lowest common denominator?

The lowest common denominator in business is always mediocrity

Photo Credit CTD 2005 via flickr

I wanted to break this into two posts, one as an introduction, and the second giving one recent example I experienced recently that demonstrates the concept.

As a general manager in an SME, there is a pretty good chance that your technology support individual or small technology team will be reporting to you, not to a dedicated IT Manager.

And as that general manager, you may feel that you don’t have the technical knowledge to question any recommendations or decisions made by your IT team.

Don’t feel that way! because that is a mistake, you don’t need to be a complete techie to ask these questions about these recommendations or decisions.

What the techies can forget

Quite simply, as a general manager, you are more likely to think about the second or third order consequences of any recommendation or decision. And unfortunately? too many technology specialists don’t.

As a business manager, your background could be sales, finance, or engineering. Whatever that expertise is, you already know that any decision analysis that is within the domain of your expertise has trade offs. Margin versus volume? Performance versus cost? As a manager, you know that you need to look beyond the basics into the longer term issues with any decision.

While your IT staff may give an idea or recommendation, they often neglect that longer term focus. They may think that recommendation is the  coolest new technology, but what are the second or third order consequences of that recommendation, of that idea, or that decision?

If your goal is reducing cost, perhaps that recommendation will increase costs because it requires secondary services or hardware that you don’t own.

If your goal is to try and use Salesforce.com for as much as possible to reduce CAPEX costs, perhaps this recommendation is going to need new servers and tools on your site.

Now while you rely on your IT team for technical details, it still up to you to ask questions.

These don’t need to be tech questions, but general questions such as;

– Does this idea fit into our current infrastructure and goals? Or does it require new services such as new databases, servers, or technologies.

– Does this recommendation require anything different in the technology infrastructure we have? Or does it have dependencies that are needed that you may not be familiar with?

– Will this work with existing solutions such as our types of servers, or backup software? or does it require new investments and skill sets.

– Does this idea require long term operating costs and requirements?

THE SMB Takeaway

You already think of the trade offs that exist in any decision that you make. So don’t let the fact that you may not be a complete ‘techie’ put you off from understanding those trade offs when it comes to ideas presented by your business technology team.

Because too many technologists may not think of them.

And to ask those questions, you don’t need to know Linux from Windows, or MS SQL from MySQL.

No tech required!

UPDATE: Part 2 is now here

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Photo Credit frangipani photograph’s creative commons via flickr

Doing Vs. Enabling

February 5, 2010

In smaller businesses, too many IT professionals have a major problem.Rose Colored Glasses

And that problem?

That problem is a failure to see issues or problems through the eyes of the people that they are dealing with.

When using any technology based tool, people want to perform a function or task, they don’t need belittling baby sitters.

OK, so somebody lacks the knowledge to solve a problem?

An IT staffer or provider fixes it. IT then says; ‘let me know whenever you need that, we’ll do it.’

Well!

If we tie our kids shoe laces until they are 15, will they ever learn to tie their own?

Enabling, Not Doing

For SMB IT folks, trust me people are smart! They don’t need you to convert the occasional WordPerfect document to Microsoft Word format for them.

Just show them how.

As Vaughan Merlyn states in this post titled; Are You Falling Into The Customer Satisfaction Trap

In finding and fixing the problem, they made no attempt to help me become self-sufficient in fixing the problem in the future.  I knew this was likely to be a recurring problem (as it subsequently proved to be!) and did not relish the pain and wait times associated with reaching their customer support desk!

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Photo Credit malingering via flickr