Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New territory

I'm venturing into new territory in more ways than one.

Let me know what you think of this commercial. It started out as a radio promo, then we added pics and formatting to make it a video. "We" is used very loosely here because all I did was supply the voice and photos. Ahem.... Thanks, Jeff Lovett of WGRA Radio!

 Customer Loyalty ~ The Time is Now

To talk about your Customer Loyalty plan, see the right sidebar for a direct contact link!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Crazy Mothers are Leaders Too

It's that special day again. Mothers everywhere are being honored for, well, various things. Not everyone had a perfect mother in the traditional sense, but everyone has a mother. If you've grown up to be a healthy adult you can appreciate the great things and the lessons learned from the less than great things. I, for one, am fortunate to have a mother still living at the ripe age of almost 83. She's a little crazy, but I'll prove to you that crazy mothers are leaders too.  

Mama taught me important things. Because of how we grew up, a life that  was not apple pie perfect, we developed skills that would end up serving us well as adults.She taught us how to have the heart and passion of a leader.

Our Mama raised us. She worked most of the time, and we were latchkey kids all through our school years. We didn't know that term back then, nor did we feel we were unusual, although I suppose we were in the 50's and 60's. Looking back I realize many other mothers were at home every day, sending the children off to school with kisses and a packed lunch, then welcoming them back in the afternoon with a hug and a snack. That was not our scenario, and I recognize now how that lifestyle helped many children grow up to be loving, responsible adults. It helped us to be resilient and independent.

Although Mama was not always there with cookies and hugs, she gave us something sturdy and strong. We weren't coddled or treated as if we hung the moon. She worked a lot and at the end of some days she was headed to a second job. It may be because of this that we have never felt we are owed anything. 

My oldest brother and I fought like wildcats. I was the oldest, so I could overtake him for awhile, but that didn't last long. I'm really surprised Mama felt we were safe at home and would not kill each other. We survived those years, living proof that things can turn out okay. Because of this we all know how to fight for what we believe in.

Mama was a role model for a hardy work ethic, treating the underdog with kindness, loving people( many of whom did not deserve her love), and being a problem solver. She would spank our behinds in a heartbeat and made sure we learned good manners. She drove many a mile with us fighting in the back seat and her swiping at us and telling us to be quiet or else!  And, she wasn't beyond stopping at a rest area to carry out her threat. Because of her, my brothers and I are tender-hearted people with a pretty tough hide.

My brothers and I know how to work; that's what we do, and we do it well. Whether jobs were physically or mentally taxing or both, we gave our employers or clients the best we had to give, and we worked at things we really cared about. We're dependable and dedicated; we show up, and we know how to fix things and solve problems. My brothers can build anything, fix anything, and they have many friends who will tell you they are good, decent, generous men who care about others and show it. One word of advice: don't mess with any of us or you will get something you won't forget. Mama taught us to give our all.

We lost my brother Joey last summer. It has been the most heartbreaking thing to happen in our lives as a family. He was only 57. Mama thought she had experienced hurt before that, but nothing can touch losing a child. Then, 9 months later she lost her long time companion and best friend, Richard. She lives in a small community where people truly care about her, and some even call her Mama Lou or Granny and check on her regularly. That is because she shows how much she is interested in them, and we learned that from observing her.

Mama wasn't apple pie, and she probably can't bake one. Most of her layer cakes stand   crooked, but she makes a killer pound cake. After she finally retired after nearly 60 years of working, she cooked, canned, made jelly and all those things she didn't have time to do for so many years. While my brother, Bart, was building his house she prepared meals almost every day and delivered to the workers for over a year. She's written several books, all honoring people or places that were meaningful in her life. She's smart, and I think we got some of that too.

Because of Mama we all got the "good dancer" gene. My family used to go to dances together often. We know how to boogie, and I miss that a lot. With Joey gone, it wouldn't be the same, but I'm thinking we should give it a go anyway. Joey would smile down on us, especially if Mama could still shake a leg.

Our family is far from being classic or perfect, and we can't deny a little crazy, but, thankfully, we don't have a single member who wants to be a reality TV show star. It's like Julia Sugarbaker said, "This is the south, and we're proud of our crazy people. We don't hide them up in the attic. We bring them right down to the living room and show 'em off. See, nobody in the south ever asks you if you have crazy people in your family, they just ask what side they're on."  Mama made sure we recognize a crazy person when we see one.

When I tell you that my Mama is sturdy and strong, believe it. She hurts deep, she cries hard, and she keeps moving along, and after awhile she laughs again. She loves humor, laughing and the people who spread it. Crazy mothers are leaders too, and that's what our Mama passed on to us. I am eternally grateful for her gift. Happy Mother's Day, Mama!

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Laissez-faire Attitude Will Not Win Customer Loyalty

I'm presenting to the Focus Forum group of the Thomasville, GA Chamber of Commerce in a few days.  I'll be speaking on a topic that is near and dear to my business heart ---   Customer Loyalty.  

The topic wins a spot in my heart because I see so many missteps, gaps, and opportunities that fell through the cracks with a business and a customer. And, every time I automatically know what could have prevented the fail.  

The loyalty you crave from customers has to be earned, and I see many businesses demonstrating way too much of a laissez-faire manner toward their precious customers.

Competition is fierce. If you think your business is one-of-a-kind and will naturally win over customers for life, you must be living on Mars where there might be that possibility if you have figured out how to get to Mars and survive there.

Your first step to winning customers is to see your business through the eyes of the customer. The second step is to listen, really listen to what your customer is telling you. And, that's just the start, a nano-second in the life of your customer care.

This topic has so much depth and breadth, and I will cover some of that at Focus Forum on Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 8:15 a.m. at the Thomasville-Thomas County Chamber of Commerce.  It would be fantastic to see you there!  

AND **I'll be sharing a June Consulting Special with the Focus Forum attendees. Only 
4 clients can sign up for this discounted special, so come to Focus Forum so you are one of the first to hear about it!

Wednesday, May 6th
8:15 a.m. Coffee / 8:30 a.m. Program
@ The Chamber
May Sponsor: Dara Barwick of 
Dara Barwick Consulting will present 
"Customer Loyalty for the Modern Business"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

And, away I'll go

It's only 10 days until I fly to Holland, then Norway. I can hardly wait. At this moment I'm in that overwhelmed stage because I have so many things to do before I leave. Kind of ruins the moment, if you know what I mean.

I'm going to post each day so those who are interested can follow our adventures. Assuming I'll have access to Wi-Fi and my iPad doesn't go bonkers, I'll make the posts each evening, EU time.

Here's a little teaser...



See why I can hardly wait? 

Last year I traveled to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria with my long-time friend, Joan. That was a trip to remember, and I expect this one to be at least as good, and Joan is my traveling companion again.

Time flies, you know? I have a long bucket list.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Customer Loyalty Story - Once Upon a Time There Was a Grocery Store

How much do you love and adore your favorite grocery store?  I love mine very much, and I have, on many occasions, bragged on that store and complimented employees. I have always received great service and positive experiences there. Today must have been during a full moon because I had the craziest thing happen. This is a story about customer loyalty.

I went to the grocery store this afternoon specifically to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, convincing myself that I would eat nothing but healthy food for a few days. As recommended by health experts, I shopped only the outer walls of the store, avoiding processed foods such as crackers, cookies, cereal, soft drinks, etc.  As I happily proceeded to the produce section, I was already patting myself on the back for the quest that was upon me.

I approached the navel oranges and glanced around for the nearest bag dispenser. I had recently noticed that the bag dispensers had either been relocated or there were fewer of them. But, in this case, all the dispensers were empty. I walked each aisle to be sure. No bags to be found.

A young employee was in the process of slowly opening a box. I asked him where I could find some produce bags. The young man replied, "Our bags were recalled, so we don't have any." I said, "What should I use to bag my produce?" He responded, "We may have some in tomorrow." Tomorrow? Tomorrow? I'm here today.

There were no other employees around so I walked all the way to the front customer service counter, and explained that the produce section was out of bags. The lady working behind that counter said, "I'm so sorry." That was it. So, I decided to try again by saying, "I need to purchase produce today, and there are no bags. Can you get some grocery bags, and I will be glad to take some back to the produce section." She walked from behind the customer service counter to a checkout line, asking me how many bags I needed as she pulled out four bags. "I'm not sure as I just began shopping, but those four you have will be fine."

This employee never once offered extra bags to take to the produce section, nor did she offer to take any there for the use of other customers.  By this time I was pretty irritated. I went back to produce with my four bags and began bagging some navel oranges. I saw the supervisor of produce walk by. I stopped him and relayed the problem to him. He said, "Our bags were recalled, so we are out." I replied, "As you can see there are a lot of customers looking around for produce bags, so, can you bring some back here?"  He did not answer, he walked straight over to the balloons and began filling balloons with helium.You can't make this stuff up. I need to add here that I had been very polite throughout these conversations, but my temperature was rising.

The store is very busy. There are eight other shoppers in produce, and they are all looking around for bags. Two more employees walked through the section and never once offered to help anyone.  I gave one of my bags to someone and let a few people know they could get more bags at the front. Since I was the only one there with bags, it was as if I had found the mystical fountain.

Then, I decided to mutate back into my old manager self. I approached the first young man I had asked for help. He was still working on opening boxes.  Me: "Josh, (not his real name) here's what you need to do right now. Go to the front of the store and bring back a large supply of bags for customers to use for produce until more bags come in. " He promptly left his cartons and did as I said.

Now, what was so hard about that and why, oh why, did a customer have to handle this situation? And, why was it necessary? This is a large, national grocery store chain with an excellent reputation. I'm quite sure they conduct customer service training for employees or I would not usually shop there.

I tell this story because it's a good example of how a business can damage customer loyalty and turn that customer into a "former customer". So, IF there had been just one employee who wanted to help, what could that person have done to make everything alright and assure the customer would remain loyal to the brand? This is it. Get ready. Here it comes.

"Ma'am, I am so sorry. Our bags were recalled just this afternoon, and we are restocking for your convenience right now. I'll have some bags ready in a few minutes. Thanks so much for your patience, May I bring you a courtesy coffee or soft drink?"

I'm still in love! I hear birds chirping, harps playing, and the sweet song of customer service! I've never been so happy to bag up oranges, cabbage, and bananas in my life. I tell all my friends there is nowhere in the world I'd rather buy groceries than this store. I'll be back tomorrow!

Spread the word. It's not too hard to create customer loyalty and raving fans. All you have to do is treat people the way you would like to be treated. Every single time.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Take Tiny Steps to a Big Brand Identity

It's easy to find information on branding. A quick web search will pull up hundreds of posts, full of guidance, opinions and helpful information. Because of that, I hesitated to write about the topic. However, every week I hear people say things that tell me there is still a need in the small business world for owners and decision makers to have a better grasp on branding and the impact a brand identity can have on the business.

Businesses are started by people who a) have a passion for something they know how to do, or b) see a problem and provide a solution. Once the business of running the business kicks in, it can be hard to keep one's head above water and get some sleep, much less have any creative thoughts on the brand identity. That's where the problems start.

Knowing your business brand can separate your business from the rest of the pack. Years ago before the new age of marketing, a brand was seen simply as just the company logo, stationary and business cards. Marketing in a nutshell. In today's highly innovative world of business marketing, that definition is very old school and is so much bigger. 

Your logo is indeed critical because it should fully represent what you want the world to understand about your business. The work you do to get that logo exactly right should be the first step in a process that will deliver your brand through all your business decisions and image. The day you begin to flow the brand story through every single action, promotion, press release, product, and employee is the day you feel a weight lifted from your shoulders because you know it's being done the right way.

Your brand identity can be defined as your business's promise, the essence of your story shown through your company's behavior, integrity, products, image, and values. Everything happens with a first step, which can be a baby step. I can't state too strongly that getting the brand identity down pat in your mind and heart will be some of the most important work you will ever do.  

It looks so easy when you see the world's huge, popular brands, such as Coca Cola, Amazon, Google, and Disney. There's one major difference between your small business and those guys. They have marketing divisions and departments with large budgets.  But, there's also one thing you have in common with those huge brands: they started with baby steps too. 

Here are five steps to take to begin to nail down your business brand identity:

  1. Host a brand-storming session. Pull together a small group of key thinkers within the business who will help you work through the brand identity process. If you haven't yet started the business, pull together people who have business or marketing experience and are good contributors and listeners.
  2. Invite an experienced outside facilitator to run the brand-storming session to guide the process and keep the purpose of the session on target. The right facilitator can be key to the outcome and success of the session and will have a plan for the session.
  3. Describe your business vision to the group, taking questions, and answering them in the most heartfelt way possible.
  4. Explore topics such as your story, the product or service, the message you want conveyed in every transaction, why you do what you do, the problem you're solving, competitors, and describe your perfect customer.
  5. Be able to answer the question, "What do you do?" in less than 30 seconds, preferably in just three sentences.
This is just a start, and it will help propel your thinking to a new level, beyond your product or service and more focused on speaking your values and vision through everything you do. It takes time, focus, and commitment. But, you can create a brand identity that will be lasting. Get started now! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Three Magic Words To Guarantee Buy-in for Strategic Planning

Does the thought of strategic planning almost send you over the edge? Or are you on the flip side of the coin and begging someone in the organization to please, please have a strategic planning retreat before you completely lose your mind?

There's no doubt that in any business there are multiple points of view on which direction to take next, how long before the next sharp curve, where is the next sharp curve, and when do we start? Is the business or team being led by someone who makes decisions on the fly or doesn't make decisions at all? I am a big fan of quick decision-making, and I also like it to be done with confidence and not guesswork. The challenges arise when there has been no long-term planning that maps out the road that will make the vision and mission of the organization more than a dream.

Every business needs to be able to turn on a dime when the opportunity presents itself for new direction that can affect revenues, employees, or the internal culture. Unfortunately, many times decision makers wait until the milk is spilled before putting the cap on the milk carton. The process of strategic planning helps participating key leaders think through the existing and potential challenges and opportunities facing the organization. 

That critical thinking element, effectively facilitated, is what can prepare an organization for the coming years of growth and market leadership. If the business strategy and tactics are not well developed, it will take more resources and time later to understand and fix the consequences of making decisions by the seat of your pants.

Now, I promised three magic words that will make everyone in your business jump on board for strategic planning.  

  1. "Retreat". Strategic Planning Retreat. Who doesn't want to go on a retreat? It's like R & R, a short vacation, and there's food and drink there. And, no suits and ties.
  2. "Away". Strategic Planning Retreats must be held away from the office. No one can retreat at the office. You need a clear head and no interruptions. Away can be a few blocks away or in another state. Away. That's all.
  3. "Facilitated". The retreat will be facilitated by an expert who will make sure everyone is heard, all the bases are covered, the agenda stays on track and on topic, and guarantees you leave on time with a plan in hand.
If strategic planning is in the cards, it's time to pull the trigger and get it on everyone's schedule. Start now by using the three magic words!