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Want Your Company to Succeed? Find Customers Who do Too

Posted on November 10, 2009 by Sean

Too often, and through no malicious intent, companies lose sight of their customers interests. In many company war rooms, you’ll find brilliant people bunkered in the back of the building burning through notepads and hallucinating from the noxious fumes of dry-erase markers. Fight plans are drafted and pricing structures are in place. But, ultimately, none of this matters if your customers are not on board. You cannot “go live” in a ghost town.

We’ve all had the impossible call with customer service or have wanted to set fire to stacks of unnecessary rebate paperwork (and sometimes ourselves.)  And there are companies that exploit the working poor in order to generate heftier profits. Bad business is all around us - I’m quite sure there are examples of companies you’d like to see fold. But, successful businesses have customers that support their success. Why would your customers want you to succeed?

Prices, the basest of all customer/company dynamic, and ultimately the cheapest (pardon the pun.) Your prices may keep your customer base, but if your service, brand and quality do not provide a similar value, your customers will eventually tire of “selling” their consumer dignity. Your customers will want you to succeed, but only as long as your prices make it worth it. If you know someone who would still shop at Wal-Mart if they raised prices, I’d like to meet them…On second thought, I’m busy that day.

Your brand (see also: Bragging Rights.) Customers are made up largely of human beings, and my anthropology professor told me that despite our best efforts, humans are emotionally dependent creatures. We seek validation and approval from others, if your company is one that connotes status or promotes a definite image, your branding is a reason your customers want you to succeed. Oftentimes, the more lucrative your brand, the higher the value of its emotional “stock.” Need proof? The iPhone has ego-boosted its way through a record-setting recession.

Because you defend them. Backwards right? But it is a rare occasion that customers defend their brand first. Companies defend their customers by knowing who they are, giving them what they want, and improving their quality of life. Defend customers from your competitors who might not have their sustainable interests in mind. Understand their humanity; share it, rather than exploit it.

The “forest for the trees” metaphor is dripping in apropos. All of the ingenuity in the world will not matter to you if your customers don’t.



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Low-Technology, High-Productivity, Less Distraction

Posted on October 16, 2009 by Sean

The advent of the personal computer has given us incalculable advances in potential and the internet has opened wide the floodgates of productivity. It seems that anything is made easier when the young and ambitious prepend old-world issues with an “E” (or the Apple Corporation re-invents it and uses the prefix “I.”) Unfortunately, unlike commerce, tunes, movies or phones, there hasn’t been a tech-whiz out of Silicon Valley able to redesign focus

Industries are crawling their way out of a centuries-old reliance on paper and humans are struggling to find ways to adapt. Automation has done much to improve the quality and quantity of human life and the Internet has literally provided millions of pages of information at our fingertips. But in these advances, the potential for distraction has increased proportionally with the potential for success. For many of us, social media, instant-messaging, Wikipedia and the latest RSS feeds wage their war of distraction through two 22-inch cinema display monitors. All of this done through a personal computer loaded with nearly every available efficiency-promoting piece of high-technology.

The war must be fought and won, but contrary to every available piece of e-advice, the answer is not in higher-tech but in lower.

To increase my own productivity, I’ve adopted an old-world response to new-world issues. Each morning, I write down (physically- pen & paper style) my agenda. Simply, I create a to-do list, and each day, I “do” this list. Simple? Exactly. I make sure to include all necessary emails, calls and correspondence that need addressing throughout the day. Everything is written in my own handwriting using “working-titles” for each issue. I make sure to describe the necessary issue concisely - but clearly. There is little worse than attempting to translate your own 6:30am sleep-scribbles.

Email reminders (Google Apps lead the pack) and pre-set deadline notifications are helpful, but for me, it seems that the answer to convolution is not systematically adding more convolution, but systematically dismantling it. For me, it is more helpful to rid myself of distraction than it is to download another program to organize it.

While meticulously handwriting all of your impending obligations can get tiresome, there is little substitute for the satisfaction of physically drawing a hard-won strike through your daily tasks. And, while my archaic answer can be effective, it is not absolute; results depend largely on discipline and circumstances. Evidence: this blog has been on my “List” as of two days ago. The strike-through feels excellent.



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Social Networking: Balancing Profession and Play

Posted on July 8, 2009 by Sean

Social networking has afforded post-modern escapism for millions. From novice to savvy and catering to dozens of demographics, there is a site geared towards connecting all of us with all of us.

Though MySpace didn’t exactly pioneer social networking, it’s largely responsible for its ubiquity. The site allowed users to easily upload pictures, biographies and customize their "space" in such a way that their space was, well, uniquely their space. A user could conceivably surf to another user's MySpace page and view the content the user wanted the viewer to see. Social Darwinism was one of the only worries; if a user was naive (dumb) enough to upload scandalous pictures of themselves, they suffered justly for their blunder. With Facebook came another level of social Venn-diagramming. The site functioned largely the same way, save much of the aesthetic customization options. But, now, users could upload and "tag" other users, rendering the "tagged" image visible for anyone in the tagged user’s network. 

Example: John gets a little heavy-handed with the party punch one Saturday evening. His mischievous friend, Mary, snaps a picture of him mid-cartwheel and, in a fit of hilarity, uploads the picture and tags John. Now, John's drunken Olympics are visible for everyone in his network, despite his acknowledgement or permission.

Invasive or intuitive?

Just yesterday, I realized that Facebook also “conveniently” scans your email contacts and "suggests" potential friends based upon their findings. This means that, for those of us who've ever used our personal emails for work-related content, we might find our boss, employee or co-worker as a suggested friend on the right-hand side of the most popular social networking site. Of course, there should be nothing to worry about, right? Right.

There's dozens of articles written about the inherent dangers of reckless networking. Curious parents, hiring managers and college admissions counselors have found a useful research tool in social media. Thanks to the excellent organic search results returned by the engines for the most popular networking sites’, oftentimes “Googling” a person’s name is enough to return dozens of links to their online profiles.

The latest social media site to gain solid traction is Twitter, a "micro-blogging" service that allows users to punch in a 140 character message and immediately send it to all of his/her "Followers." Ironically, the medium was originally designed for work. Now, what was once a way for project managers to simultaneously communicate with dozens of colleagues is now fodder for pedestrian updating. From celebrities to CEO's, pastors to pundits, Barack Obama to Joe the Plumber, almost everyone's got a Twitter account and uses it liberally. For those of us contributing to Twitter’s meteoric rise to banality, we should be conscious of our content.

The problem is, like any other social media, a user’s persona is created through updated content. The danger with Twitter is that it allows for silent commiseration. Voicing complaints is normal, perhaps even necessary, but it's another story when users can see that (during work hours) on June 11, 2008, you "Hated your boss sooo much!" 

The bottom line is that social networking can be fun or even profitable when approached with caution and purpose. Taking a macroscopic look at what a certain Twitter or Facebook update might cost is the key to keeping the necessary division between work and play.



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