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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shattering Expectations - II

Diamonds are forever originally uploaded by Marco V.A..
What messages do we send our customers?

Take IKEA. I admire IKEA. I've even referred to IKEA - see How To Achieve An Inspired Environment - as a destination for inspiring ideas, practices and products. IKEA does so many things right in terms of the retail experience and marketing to women.

So what to make of this experience?

On a recent hot August Saturday, my daughter and I opted for an indoor IKEA lunch and in-store [air conditioned] browsing. We left the house late, hungry and ready for a light Scandinavian lunch feast.

Now, IKEA does a wonderful job with its cafeteria, offering meal solutions and entertainment for parents with kids: kids' sized meals, a play area, fun plates/utensils. It's always a hit. Furthermore, the store heavily promotes its meals. Not only are they a terrific service for shoppers, but shoppers also get to taste some of the foods sold. [Heavy] promotion takes place within catalogs, throughout the store and on the mailer we received, which triggered the visit [and a desire for 2 items]. So, no worries!

Thirty minutes later we arrived, found a lovely spot in the covered garage and made our way into the store, up the escalator and to the cafeteria, only to be greeted by total silence and barriers. A 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper indicated that the cafeteria was closed due to a Bergen County water emergency. [Afterwards, I learned more about the 'crisis'. See BOIL WATER ADVISORY LIFTED FOR BERGEN COUNTY AND NORTH HUDSON COUNTY CUSTOMERS from 8/6/2007.]

I had no idea what was going on [I live in Morris County and got in late the night before from a business trip] other than NO FOOD was available in-store, and few immediate options available out-of-store... On the other hand, we'd committed time and effort and would rather not leave without finding those 2 items.

Long story short: despite both of us feeling strong hunger pangs, we decided to stick it out, quickly found the items and high-tailed it back to Morris County for MacDonald's.

As we were leaving, we noticed that an IKEA person had positioned himself at the entrance to advise people as they entered that the cafeteria was closed. Where was that person when we arrived? Our arrival matched up more closely with a traditional meal time than our departure time did. At the same time, he really wasn't offering people any options. What a missed opportunity.

Given IKEA's commitment to serving family meals, why couldn't the store come up with a temporary, but fun food solution? Offer complimentary cookies? What about water, soda, milk? As we checked out, I noticed that ice cream was available at a cash/wrap snack bar. Why not upstairs in the cafeteria? Why did I have to check out to realize that another food [OK, snack food] option was available? This didn't make sense.

What about selling sandwiches? Or offering Lunchables? I understand water and sanitation issues, but why should that completely shut down this cafeteria? During the busiest shopping day of the week? When the store heavily advertises the service that had been shut down? What a missed opportunity.

Needless to say, I was disappointed with the response to the water emergency. These things happen, and what a lost opportunity to draw in consumers and Wow! them with a delightful and unexpected solution to a crisis. Especially the coveted woman and mom demographic!

As is often the case with large organizations, as long as interactions and market presence can be scripted from a centralized or corporate environment, they delight customers. However, when life interferes [and gets messy], they lose touch with the world of their customers and disappoint.

So, don't lose touch with your customers. Don't shatter their expectations. Your response to unexpected situations separates you from large entities that have lost the ability to be flexible in how they offer solutions to their customers' issues. What a golden opportunity!

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Exhilarated By [Solutia] Marketing!

Jumping in Waimea Bay 2 originally uploaded by Nantel.
Have you ever been so exhilarated from an encounter that you've wanted to leap off into water or break out into dance? With the intensity of the exhilaration being a function of how extreme the contrast between the encounter and the previous state of being...

Isn't it an amazing feeling?

In my case, the previous state of being comes from close to 4 years of uncertainty -- the result of my company - Solutia - entering into Chapter 11 in December 2003. Although we've done our best to focus on what we can control and not be distracted by the unknowns and the bankruptcy process, things have certainly been 'different.' They've also been tough and we've had to figure out how to do things more efficiently, considering new approaches to doing the same old things...

Despite being part of a larger organization, anything outside of the immediate scope of our business has been irrelevant. The prime directive has been to focus on our customers, our markets, our industry. It's been the same for the other Solutia businesses.

So, imagine being invited to take part in a marketing communications summit across all Solutia businesses... an almost surreal concept that actually took place a few weeks ago in St. Louis, Mo. And, was it ever a blast! I felt like Christopher Walken dancing to Weapon Of Choice - Fatboy Slim [feed readers, click on Weapon of Choice link for YouTube clip].

The summit signaled that it was okay to look beyond our immediate world, to learn about other businesses and .... to plan for that up-to-now ever elusive emergence from bankruptcy [this October?]. What a message!

It was also the most exhilarating get-together that I've taken part in since joining Monsanto/Solutia! This was a get-together of marketing practitioners across the organization: 22 of my peers across several businesses within 4 divisions participated. I had neither met nor communicated with most. Those I had communicated with, I had only met a few weeks prior. What a thrill!

We spoke about the future, and a future together as one company. We educated one another about our businesses, and marketing approaches. Although we operate in different markets, the differences triggered ideas and thoughts to consider and explore. In that session alone, I met SEO experts, marketers facing intense multi-cultural marketing challenges, web experimenters, branding professionals -- all top-notch. I may have more in common with some businesses than I do others, but regardless I know I can learn from all of these marketers.

Even though we had never met or interacted with one another, we all shared the experience of having made it this far through bankruptcy. We are leaner and nimbler. We've reinvented ourselves in the midst of uncertainty and tremendous change. We have shut down businesses and been forced to figure out new approaches. The pace has been so intense that there's been little opportunity to mingle with other businesses or spend time contemplating anything other than what is immediately critical, making this event that much more powerful.

These are some of the Solutia Inc. businesses I learned about:
+ in Nylon Intermediates [in addition to Ultron and Wear-Dated], Vydyne
+ in Films and Glass Products, CP Films, Gila Films, LLumar as well as Saflex
+ our new Flexsys business
+ in Specialty Products, Skydrol and Therminol
Most are heavily B2B, but several share B2C elements.

Shortly after returning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published this article by Rachel Melcer titled Solutia is doing well after three years of bankruptcy [which Floor Daily reinterpreted as Solutia Doing Well After 3 Years of Bankruptcy].

The lessons from all this?
+ Certainly, Anna Farmery's words of wisdom from When limited budget is fantastic news! come to mind. Consider whether you are making the best possible decisions with your resources.

+ As bad as things may be, there may still be opportunities hidden within. Bankruptcy has not been fun, but I truly believe that it has made us a better organization.

+ Reach out to those around you. Ask them to tell you what they do. Get them to talk about their roles/markets/businesses. You may think that you share nothing in common, but you'll discover unexpected perspectives and experience levels and benefit from it all.

Many thanks to our corporate communications group for having created this exhilarating opportunity for Solutia marketers to learn from one another.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Listen! A Slice From The Age Of Conversation

One thing for sure is that conversation starts with listening, which is what this slice from The Age of Conversation is all about.

In "Keeping the Message Consistent," Roger Anderson urges us to truly listen and not just hear. After all, listening is active whereas hearing is passive.

Jordan Behan describes "Using the Tools of the Web to Build Relationships Online." As you do offline to build a relationship, so must you online "listen intently to your customers and answer all of their questions."

Susan Willett Bird toasts "Here's to the Capital C Conversation." What makes a conversation great is "that the participants come to such a conversation with the intent to be changed by it. They come prepared to listen in a way that will reveal a perspective, an insight, a fact that eluded them until now."

Chris Corrigan describes the "Art of Conversations." It is absolutely about listening 'from the heart.' After all, "conversations... are humanity's most profound invention."

Listening, though, may lead to "a sense of communal identification" as Rishi Desai describes while urging us to "Facilitate Better Learning By Breaking The Cycle." He introduces us to the concept of the conversation curator and cautions against 'curatorial benevolence' and passivity.' Rather, curators "must seek to disturb the harmony when they detect cyclical or homogeneous responses."

Gianandrea Facchini tells us all "About Conversation" referring to Winnie The Pooh, Truman Capote, Benjamin Franklin, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Ernest Hemingway and Moliere. He says "Without a conversation, we cannot learn to listen, to give words their own meaning and not the one we would like them to have."

Stanley Johnson pleads with us to "Don't Talk. Listen." Why? "To engage your brand in conversation you need to be a good listener." He gives us 30 ways and reasons to listen - that guarantee you won't become a passive conversation curator!

Spike Jones reinforces that with "Shut Up." "You might just learn something if you do," he says. After all, we have passionate customers out there who want to connect with us, IF we listen.

Kim Klaver explains "How Tennis Puts Conversation into Marketing." It's a refreshing reminder that when we are trying to connect with prospects, we should "ask a question to trigger a response from the listener right off." And then, listen!

Scott Monty writes about "B2B Social Media: Don't Monkey Around." Were you aware that conversation has its roots in the Latin 'conversari' [to dwell, to keep company with]? "Only by listening and learning will B2B marketers be able to start talking WITH their customers." In other words, that's the means to keeping company with them.

Sacrum B. Rown describes "Warmness" visually and verbally. "You is talking, I is talking and the brand sends out charges! The charge is a voice and sometimes we is listening."

How actively do you listen? To your customers? To your employees? Consider what might be missing if you don't. And celebrate all that you gain when you do!

Previous posts relating to The Age Of Conversation:
+ The Age of Conversation - A Slice on Connection
+ A Slice From The Age Of Conversation
+ The Age of Conversation - Now Available
+The Conversation Age - Enabled

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Engaging Brands For Consumers and Employees

How might a successful or "engaging" consumer retail experience translate to an employee experience?

That is what fellow Age of Conversation co-author Anna Farmery from The Engaging Brand invited me to discuss with her.

We explored brands and brand experiences, whether generational differences affect brand experience, and how the methods for creating an engaging consumer retail experience translate to an equally engaging employee experience.

The end result is The Engaging Brand's Podcast Show # 105 - Creating a Consumer Experience [which includes instructions on how to playback or download the recording. You can also playback by clicking on How environment affects engagement]. According to Anna:

"She [a.k.a. CB] talks to us about how to create an environment that expresses your brand and also engages the consumer. She talks about how we need to think about culture, colours, display and also how to walk in the consumers shoes."

I haven't had so much fun talking since Diva Marketing Talks. Anna is a gifted interviewer and made me feel immediately at ease. Her questions pushed me to link retail with non-retail environments, and consider how brand expression in one translates to the other. The goal is certainly similar: to engage the consumer/employee to become a loyal and longterm contributor.

Anna shared U.K. perceptions of American brands - an invaluable perspective in a world where our customers and employees are fast becoming increasingly global in culture and background.

Many thanks to Anna for living up to her mantra, an inspiring quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I will never forget how energized my conversation with Anna made me feel! This despite scheduling delays, the Skype Outage [as reported by the International Herald Tribune], and a few other technical issues.

Thank you, Anna. I do hope you make it to the Blogger Social '08. I will enjoy meeting you in person!

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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Magical W List

Womble W originally uploaded by Leo Reynolds.
The Magical W List has taken on a life of its own... especially when I consider the early versions from PR Power Women Rule! and Valeria Maltoni's amplification where she formally identified it as the W List in Top 20 PR Power Women....

Toby - ever a source of inspiration - in The W Magical List of Women Bloggers explains that the W List now has its own W Magical List Wiki Space! developed by Carolyn, A Woman of Purpose. Isn't that exciting!

After Flooring It Differently By Standing On A Better World, here's my turn to honor the women around me. My additions [just added to the W Wiki] include:

andHow To Reach Women by Tami Anderson
Be Relevant! by Tamara Gielen
Blog Til You Drop by Laurence-Hélène Borel
Customer Experience Crossroads by Susan Abbott
Experienceology by Stephanie Weaver
¡Hola! Oi! Hi! by katia adams
MediaBlog by Daria Rasmussen
Purple Wren by Sandy Renshaw
The Curious Shopper by Sara Cantor
The Kristasphere by Krista Summit
The Qualitative Research Blog by Reshma Anand
Woolgathering by Elizabeth Perry

The most current list follows. As you peruse this W list, be amazed with the Wealth of talent, the global-ness, the Wide range of areas of expertise, and generally the Wonderful-ness of the W bloggers. This goes beyond Extending buZZ.... Check it out, and do add to it.

[Note: this version comes from the W wiki. As the list makes its rounds, multiple permutations have developed. Please double check the W Magical List Wiki Space to ensure that your favorites are listed!]

21st Century Collaborative by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
45 Things by Anita Bruzzese
A Girl Must Shop by Megan Garnhum
A Little Pregnant by Julie
Alkamae by Susan Reid
Allied by Jeneane Sessum
A Look at Art & Design: by Lisa Mikulski
angiemckaig.com: still a great pair of legs by Angie McKaig
Ask Dr. Kirk by Dr. Delaney Kirk
Average Jane by Average Jane
Back in Skinny Jeans by Stephanie Quilao
Bag and Baggage by Denise Howell
Becoming a Woman of Purpose by Carolyn Townes
BlogWrite for CEOs by Debbie Weil
Blogaholics by Arienna Foley
Biz Growth News by
Brain Based Biz by Dr. Robyn McMaster
Brain Based Business by Dr. Ellen Weber
Brand Sizzle by Anne Simons
Branding & Marketing by Chris Brown
Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk
Build A Better Blog by Denise Wakeman and Patsi Krakoff
Build a Solo Practice, LLC by Susan Cartier Liebel
Career Goddess by Susan Guarnieri
Chatting to my Generation by Anja Merret
Cheap Thrills by Ryan Barrett
Christine Kane by Christine Kane
Church of the Customer by Jackie Huba
CK’s Blog by CK (Christina Kerley)
Communication Overtones by Kami Huyse
Conflict coaching and resolution for the workplace by Dr Tammy Lenski
Confession of a Marketing Addict by Sunny Cervantes
Conscious Business by Anne Libby
Contentious by Amy Gahran
Conversation Agent by Valeria Maltoni
Conversations With Dina by Dina Mehta
Corporate PR by Elizabeth Albrycht
Creating Passionate Users by Kathy Sierra
Creative Curio by Lauren Marie
Crossroads by Evelyn Rodriguez
Cruel To Be Kind by Nicole Simon
Customers Rock! by Becky Carroll
CustServ by Meikah David
DailyAffirm by Jeanie Marshall
Debbie Millman by Debbie Millman
Deborah Schultz by Deborah Schultz
Decent Marketing by Katherine Stone
Designers Who Blog by Cat Morley
Design Your Life by Ellen and Julia Lupton
Design Your Writing Life by Lisa Gates
Diary of Claudine Hellmuth by Claudine Hellmuth
Diva Marketing Blog by Toby Bloomberg
Do It Myself Blog by Glenda Watson Hyatt
Dooce by Heather B. Armstrong
Downshifting - by Anne Howe
Driving Traffic - Carol Krishner
Eie Flud by Heather
Elise.com by Elise Bauer
Email Marketing Best Practices by Tamara Gielen
Emily Chang - Strategic Designer by Emily Chang
Enter the Laughter by Marti Lawrence
Equip and Empower! by Carolyn Townes
Escape Blog by Melissa Petri
Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim
eSoup by Sharon Sarmiento
Essential Keystrokes by Char
Every Dot Connectsby Connie Reece
EvilHRLady by Evil HR Lady
Expansion Plus by Sally Falkow
Fish Creek House by GP
First Light by Julie Keyser-Squires
Flash and Accessibility by Niqui Merret
Flooring The Consumer by CB Whittemore
Forrester’s Marketing Blog by Shar, Charlene, Chloe, Christine Elana, Laura and Lisa
Franke James by Franke James
Full Circle - Nancy White
Funny Business by Elena Centor
Fusion View by Yang-Amy Ooi
Get Fresh Minds by Katie Konrath
Get Shouty by Katie Chatfield
Getting Granular by Aimee Kessler Evans
Giant Jeans Parlour by Anjali
GourmetStation Delicious Destinations by Donna Lynes-Miller
Great Presentations Mean Business by Laura Athavale Fitton
Hartsock Communications by Nettie Hartsock
Hey Marci by Marci Alboher
Horse Pig Cow by Tara Hunt
ifelse by Phu Ly
Illustration Friday by Penelope Dullaghan
In Women We Trust by Mary Clare Hunt
Inspired Business Growth by Wendy Piersall
Internet Geek Girl by Stephanie Agesta
Jane Geneva by Jane Geneva
J.T. O’Donnell Career Insights by J.T. O’Donnell
Jemima Kiss by Jemima Kiss
Joyful, Jubilant Learning by Rosa Say
Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog by Katya Andresen
KDPaine's PR Measurement Blog by Katie Delahaye Paine
Kinetic Ideas by Wendy Maynard
Kristy T's Home Business Blog by Kristy T
Learned on Women by Andrea Learned
Lifeblog by anina
Lindsay Pollak by Lindsay Pollak
Lip-sticking by Yvonne DeVita
Little Red Suit by Tiffany Monhollon
Live The Power by Karen Lynch
Liz Strauss at Successful Blog by Liz Strauss
Lorelle on WordPress by Lorelle VanFossen
Making Life Work for You by April Groves
Marketer Blog by Leslie Jump
Marketing To Women by Holly Buchanan
Manage to Change by Ann Michael
Management Craft by Lisa Haneberg
Managing With Aloha Coaching by Rosa Say
Mandarin Design Daily:The MEG Blog by Michelle Goodrich
Marketing Roadmaps by Susan Getgood
Mary's Blog by Mary Schmidt
Media Influencer by Adriana Lukas
Mediation Mensch - Dina Beach Lynch
Misbehaving by Dana Boyd, Hilde Corneliussen, Caterina Fake, Meg Hourihan, Liz Lawley, Fiona Romeo, Dorothea Salo, Halley Suitt, Gina Trapani, Jill Walker
Mkgmd - le mag du marketing multidimentionnel by Christelle Alexandre
Moda di Magno by Lori Magno
Modite by Rebecca Thorman
Mogulettes in the Making by Carmina Perez
molly.com by Molly E. Holzschlag
Muddy BootsNarrative Assets by Karen Hegman
Newbie NYC by Mary Hilton
Netdiver by Carole Guevin
On My Desk by Linzie Hunter
Orlando Avenue by Colleen Kulikowski
Passion Meets Purpose by Kammie Kobyleski
Peggy Payne's Boldness Blog by Peggy Payne
Poultry Discussion by Louise Manning
Presto Vivace Blog by Alice Marshall
Productivity Goal by Carolyn Manning
Purse Lip Square Jaw by Anne Galloway
Quality Service Marketing by Sybil Stershic
re:Invention by Kristen Osolind
Resonance Partnership by Marianne Richmond
Sacred Ingredients by Nicole Hanley
Sent From My Dell Desktop by Alejandra Ramos
Small Biz Survival by Becky McCray
Small Biz Trends by Anita Campbell
Small Failures: Sustainability for the Rest of Us by Jess Sand
So Close by Tertia
Spare Change by Nedra Kline Weinreich
Spirit Women by Carolyn Townes
Susan Mernit’s Blog by Susan Mernit
SweetSalty by Kate Inglis
swissmiss by Tina Roth Eisenberg
Talk It Up by Heidi Miller
Tech Kitten by Trisha Miller
That’s What She Said by Julie Elgar
The Artsy Asylum by Susan Reynolds
The Blog Angel by Claire Raikes
The Brand Dame by Lyn Chamberlin
The Budgeting Babe by Nicole
the Constant Observer by Tish Grier
The Copywriting Maven by Roberta Rosenberg
The Engaging Brand by Anna Farmery
The Entrepreneurial MD by Philippa Kennealy
The Floozy Blog by Kate Coote
The Kiss Business Too by Karin H.
The Krafty Librarian by Michelle A. Kraft
The Marketing Mix Blog by Ilse Benun
The Parody by Sasha Manuel
The Podcast SistersThe What If...? Women by Randee, Lori, Anne, Lynn, and Norka (Pink Collar Club)
Think Positive! by Kristen Harrell
this is rachelandrew.co.uk by Rachel Andrew
Toddler Planet by WhyMommy
unstruc chitchat about information by Daniela Barbosa
Veerle’s blog 2.0 by Veerle
Water Cooler Wisdom by Alexandra Levit
Wealth Strategy Secrets by Nicola Cairncross
What A Concept! By Sherry Heyl
What’s Next Blog by B L Ochman
Wiggly Wigglers authored by fellow Podcast Sister Heather Gorringe
Wonder Branding by Michele Miller
Worker Bees Blog by Elisa Camahort
Write Ideas Marketing by Andrea Morris
Ypulse by Anastasia Goodstein

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Flooring It Differently By Standing On a Better World

girl_standing_at_sunrise originally uploaded by pmpessa.
Mannington Industries is Flooring It Differently with its Stand On a Better World Awards program.

This program, now in its third year, looks to honor the women around us who make this world a better place. As the website states:

"There are far too many problems in the world, and far too few problem solvers. The Stand On A Better World Awards honor those who fight to beat the odds."

I first described the program in Enhancing The World Around Us and announced the 2006 winners in Making The World A Better Place.

Although the nominating for 2007 has closed, Mannington has enhanced this year's program with a wonderful social media angle: we get to cast our votes!

That's right. In addition to the formal judging [which will identify an award recipient in each of the local/national/global categories while considering each's contribution socially, economically and environmentally], we have a chance to express our support. So, please, don't wait. Cast your vote by clicking here. 30 amazing women have made it through the nominations. At the very least, click on their photos and read what they have done.

To Mannington and my friends Ellen Madill and Betsy Amoroso, and all those involved with them, I say thank you for Flooring It Differently and focusing attention on the women who give back so intensely.

And, to everyone else, consider how you might make a difference in your community and honor the women who make your world more special.

Disclaimer: We do business with Mannington Industries in our contract carpet fiber division.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trying Ideas On For Size

Mix match originally uploaded by rebbcat.
"There are more sales lost in the dressing room than perhaps in any other place in the context of the store." So writes Teresa Méndez from The Christian Science Monitor in High-tech dressing rooms become virtual reality. New technology should make it possible for customers to solicit opinions from friends remotely as she quotes Paco Underhill. "It's a retail space where, on average, a shopper spends 3.5 very important minutes."

The article goes on to describe high tech developments to reinvent the "lowly fitting room" via a 'social retailing mirror.'

The notion of fitting rooms intrigues me. I've certainly noticed more seating outside of fitting rooms to accommodate those waiting - for example, Macy's with curved benches, and Urban Outfitters with living room settings. And, although Forthe & Towne has shut down [see Gap to close Forthe & Towne from 2/26/2007], I love what they tried to accomplish with their dressing room statement.

Dresser's Oasis from BusinessWeek Online Sept. 2005 explains visually how "Fitting rooms are the venue for the actualization of a woman's personal taste and style. Forth & Towne makes them fabulous." This 9/20/2005 BusinessWeek Online article by Andrew Blum explains it further in Forth & Towne: The Store's the Thing At Gap's new women's apparel chain, architectural design -- notably the dressing room's central placement -- is defining what the new brand is. This is where "the real stage is the fitting rooms" with the store literally designed around them. In VisualStore on Forthe & Towne -- "New concept offers a shopping sanctuary for the fashionably mature woman" from 12/5/2005, Anne DiNardo, Associate Editor, further describes the store concept with wonderful dressing room photos.

Even though the store is no more, I want to dwell on the dressing room.

NRF Stores states in Give Customers Some Space by Lorrie Grant from April 2007 that "Fitting Rooms are fast becoming inviting spaces with large changing and waiting areas furnished with plump sofas, fresh-cut flowers, art and entertainment. It's all part of a big effort to connect emotionally with the customer and increase loyalty and sales."

And, although Target perhaps doesn't represent the extreme of what Grant describes, The Curious Shopper asks How does my butt look? in appreciation for "what no average residence contains. That infinitely wise, truth-bearing, all-knowing and all-illuminating butt mirror."

Pshaw, you say! What does all this have to do with flooring stores?

In my humble target-woman-consumer opinion, I suggest that dressing or fitting rooms have a lot to do with flooring stores. Not in the sense that flooring stores should get into the apparel business. However, definitely in terms of offering consumers the equivalent of an apparel store fitting room: a place that encourages the consumer to try product on.

This is particularly relevant for ideas, concepts and products that have little to do with commodity transactions, that have everything to do with fashion!

A fitting room, dressing room, changing room - all represent names for a place where a consumer can comfortably consider different product ideas and try them on for size. If the idea fits, the consumer buys it.

Isn't that what we want consumers to do in a flooring store? We want to encourage them to consider possibilities, to try flooring ideas on as a solution to what they want to achieve in their homes. We don't want them to simply walk in and purchase the lowest cost whatever and never return...

Stores that understand have created dedicated areas where consumers can try on ideas, spread out fabrics, match up paint swatches with carpet samples and other flooring options. We aren't talking high tech here. It's a simple concept: at the very least a table and several chairs. Warm lighting would be helpful, perhaps even a board for pinning ideas up on. And, then, assuming your consumers engage fully with your retail experience [after all that is what you have created], they actually choose to linger in your store.... You might offer them coffee or water, and any other of the tools of hospitality that reassure them that they are welcome.

Are you convinced? Go on. Encourage your shoppers to try your ideas on for size. You may actually generate relationships and sales.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Age Of Conversation - A Slice On Connection

Meet Curious George.

He's our official The Age of Conversation mascot and his world tour has just gotten started. Steve Woodruff, Tour Director, describes it in more detail in Get Curious World Tour - George Is Floored! after handing George off to me in person!

In fact, George and the hand off from Steve capture the essence of The Age of Conversation and the next slice that I focus on here: Connection.

We live increasingly harried lives, leaving little time to connect with others. When we do connect, because of children or workplace, the connections tend to be very closely focused on an end goal [make it through the birthday party; complete the project...].

What social media - and in this case blogs - enable is connection based on shared interests in the most efficient manner possible. [For more on connection efficiency, listen to Diva Marketing's interview on IndieHotlier as described in Hotels, Hospitality and Social Media.]

When you meet someone whose blog you are familiar with, it's as if you were immediately walking into his or her living room [to use the Diva's imagery] to continue a conversation, rather than start one from scratch. That's exactly what Steve and I experienced!

Same goes for George as he immediately got into the act with his 'Big George' sandwich. He was rather hungry after the first stop on his world tour....

As it relates, then, to connection, consider the following authors and their chapters from The Age of Conversation book:

Cam Beck writes about "Getting Past the Conversation Bottleneck" urging us to connect beyond the overly familiar.

David Brazeal describes "Conversation and the Crumbling Wall Between Journalism and PR." It's exciting "because the online conversation gives ... the opportunity to interact with people, build rapport and establish trust."

Katie Chatfield asks that we prepare for "Branded Communitainment." After all, "the brand's role is to host a get-together." I like the sound of that!

Tony D. Clark says that "Brevity and Levity -- Key Spices in the Conversation Soup." Absolutely relevant, particularly if you agree with Katie.

Mack Collier urges us to better understand our customers by "Breaking Marketing Barriers from the Top of a Harley." I can't think of a better example than Harley-Davidson for building connections and communities.

Mark Earls says "'We' not 'I' -- the Human Truths Revealed by The Age of Conversation." More specifically, "What the new connectedness that technology has really done is reveal human nature more clearly, more fully, and more usefully."

Sean Howard visually captures "Disconnection from Community in Our Real World Lives." Yes, it can lead to disconnection from Community, but it can also go in the opposite direction.

Lori Magno offers an invitation to "Speak to Me TJX." Indeed, isn't it preposterous that retail establishments - so willing to take our money and lots of our data - can't figure out how to connect directly with us? [Note the Important Customer Alert on the TJX page.]

David Reich promotes "Conversation - The Ultimate Customer Service." It's the answer to Lori's invitation. I wonder which organizations will seize this opportunity?

Greg Verdino asks "Have You Hugged a Blogger Today?" with a reminder that "digital and analogue conversations are two parts of the same whole."

Steve Woodruff writes about "The Lowered Fence of Collaboration" which our hand off absolutely captured. And, yes, we hugged.

Here, you see George during the hand off, and right before I packed him off to Steve Roesler. Note that during his visit with me, he acquired his own copy of The Age of Conversation, and an "AoC" brand on his hat.

As you think about your own customer relationships, how do you go about connecting with the people in your community? Are you open to trying out new ways of connecting and building relationship?

When you read through The Age Of Conversation, you will be struck by how much what your customers value has changed. The means exist for connecting, if you listen to your customers.

Although George's tour has only just begun, I'm amazed at how old approaches like George [e.g., a stuffed animal being handed off from person to person via the traditional postal system] can strengthen bonds developed via new approaches like blogs.

That tells me that the best of the new world of web 2.0 truly represents a combination of the old and the new. It enables powerful connection. So, then, what is your George?

I hope you've purchased The Age of Conversation. Don't wait too long or you'll miss out on profound learnings. And, remember that it's for a great cause, our children!

Previous posts relating to The Age Of Conversation:
+ A Slice From The Age Of Conversation
+ The Age of Conversation - Now Available
+The Conversation Age - Enabled

Note: Matt Dickman will be tracking George's progress as he makes his way to all 103 authors of The Age of Conversation!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Shattering Expectations

shattered originally uploaded by elle decouvre.
Interesting situation this week at Newark Airport that has me thinking about what our actions communicate to customers...

I make it through Newark Airport security at 4:55am this past Tuesday in anticipation of a 6:15am Continental flight to Saint Louis, MO.

I really don't expect much to be open. However, I walk by Starbucks on Concourse C and notice some activity. The gate is halfway up. I check the store hours and they indicate that store opening is scheduled for 5am. Oh, goody! I'm in luck.

I see others waiting; I find a perch at the shoe shine stand across from Starbucks and wait.

5:05am. The Continental President's Club opens [it's next to Starbucks]. Most of the waiting crowd disappears within. A few of us remain. I'm hopeful.

5:10am. No change. However, the shoe shine man appears. I quickly move off his stool. I notice that his hours indicate a 6am start time [I had assumed I'd be ok for longer]. He invites me graciously to continue using his stool.

5:15am. Starbucks begins to look ready for action: lights are now ablaze and the gate raised. Several of us line up... only to learn that it will be another 20 minutes before they are ready to serve coffee! Ugh.

I decide to find a bathroom. When I return [and I purposely dawdled], the line hasn't moved. Luckily, it quickly starts to engage and the java shots soon begin their allocation. As I exit with my latte in hand, I notice that my shoe shine friend is fully set up and ready for action 30 minutes BEFORE his scheduled start time.

Guess which business I'm more impressed with?

Lesson: if you can't meet basic expectations -- here, serving coffee by the time posted on your storefront -- then re-examine those expectations, particularly if you regularly have problems. If it's a one-time situation, then let people know so they can manage their time and make decisions. In either case, don't forget to make your customers feel special.

Situations outside of our control happen all the time. How we handle them is what makes the difference between a bad taste or an extraordinary response that gets people talking about how wonderful we are!

In this case, it would really have made a difference had the waiting customers been engaged directly. Let us know what is going on. We didn't get a surly attitude, but we did get an impatient one. Imagine if the music had been turned on, if the baristas had laughed and interacted with the waiting customers, or if they had offered some pastry tastes in acknowledgement that folks were waiting... All of that would have lifted the mood and made the waiting crowds become part of the solution.

Beware of not shattering expectations.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Slice From The Age Of Conversation

Have you purchased your copy of The Age of Conversation? You haven't? Why not? Please do so. You'll be astounded at what you discover.

If you're not quite sure what I'm referring to, then please read The Age Of Conversation - Now Available. Not only are you benefiting a good cause, but you're also benefiting from the finest marketing minds around with wisdom on this Age of Conversation [i.e., web 2.0] that is absolutely here to stay!

Now, if you still aren't convinced that there is value here for you, then consider this slice...

Within this marvelous book, you will discover very practical information relating to social media from experts on the topic! Actionable tips, valuable how-tos and specific ideas on applying these marketing tools and ideas to your businesses. More specifically:

Todd Andrlik writes about "Scoring a Top Blog."
David Berkowitz focuses on "The Ageless Age."
Mark Blair discusses "Speaking Through Action."
Tom Clifford speaks about "Let's See That Again!"
Peter Corbett addresses "Using Social Media to Deepen Brand Engagement."
Ed Cotton touches on "Seven Ways to Start a Conversation with Advertising."
Geert Desager writes "Bring the Love Back."
Pete Deutschman discusses "Revelation from a Digital Junkie's Digital Diary,"
Anna Farmery explores "How to Turn Employee Engagement into a Happy Marriage."
Phil Gerbyshak writes "Continuing the Conversation: The Importance of Follow-Up."
Bob Glaza explores "Give and Grow."
Mark Goren discusses "Be a Give + Take Marketer."
Kristin Gorski addresses "W.R.I.T.E."
Kris Hoet writes about "You Get a Long Way with Common Sense."
Gareth Kay recommends "The Strongest Conversations Start with a Point of View."
Gaurav Mishra wants us to "Create Conversations, Not Clutter."
Michael Morton describes "How to Build a Community on a Budget: Just Use An Online Newsletter!"
Simon Payn discusses "How Peter Got His Customers Back."
David Polinchock talks about "The Role of Conversation in the Brand Experience."
Joe Raasch is all about "No Limit Conversation."
Arun Rajagopal writes about "The Rules of the Garage. For Digital Media Conversationalists."
Connie Reece explains "The Two-step of Conversational Writing."
Sandy Renshaw talks about "Graphics and Conversations."
Mike Sansone asks "Do You Talk Write?"
Patrick Schaber writes about "Starting the Conversation for the Small Business Marketer."
Mario Vellandi explores "Collective Intelligence."
Roger von Oech describes "How to Think Like A Fool."
Troy Worman explains how to "Connect the Unconnected."

I'll share further slices with you. Simply stay tuned.

But, if you consider yourself a practical marketer willing and wanting to be up-to-speed on how to apply social media to your businesses, then look no further than The Age of Conversation.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Book Review: How To Talk To Customers

So much of effective communication - with customers, co-workers, family, and friends - is a function of the impressions we create.

Imagine consciously creating only great impressions... Tempting, isn't it?

How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC by Diane Berenbaum and Tom Larkin from Communico Ltd. provides the means for doing just that.

Reviews of this book appear on Service Untitled, The Innovative Marketer [which includes a podcast], Customers Are Always, Customers Rock!, Drew's Marketing Minute, and Make It Great. I started reading it while attending the Disney Institute session that led to STORY Brings Brands To Life. The session repeatedly referred to magic vs. tragic impressions and reinforced how critical it is to create a positive impression with customers - exactly what Berenbaum and Larkin discuss in their book.

[Customers Rock! features an in depth 2-part interview with Diane Berenbaum. How To Talk To Customers - An Interview with Diane Berenbaum Part I offers an overview on the company, MAGIC and customer service.]

MAGIC stands for Make A Great Impression on the Customer. More specifically,

Make a connection to build a relationship; then Act Professionally and express confidence. Get to the heart of the matter by listening and asking questions. Inform and Clarify what you will do. Finally, Close with the relationship in mind.

MAGIC is about maximizing positive interactions and managing how others perceive us. It offers tools to start out a relationship or interaction on the right foot, and extend the goodwill so that even if the outcome isn't perfect, every other aspect of the interaction will have been more than satisfactory. We leave our customer with a great impression of hard work and goodwill.

According to the authors, how we communicate is the most dominant factor in our relationship with others. Think how often we fall into unsuccessful communication patterns because we aren't looking, listening and perceiving from the other's perspective. [If you haven't, consider reading Deborah Tannen's books about society and language].

The solution entails listening, empathizing with the other, taking a collaborative approach [after all, we're trying to identify a solution], and then framing the communication in terms of community and relationships. We consciously choose our attitude. An attitude of indifference is so powerful that it is the reason why 68% of customers will stop doing business with us. If customers perceive that we don't care, they are done with us. On the other hand, satisfied customers stay, return and promote us to others. They represent loyalty's Holy Grail!

Tone of voice, how we listen and body language work together to create the right communication environment. That's what leads to making a great impression and establishing a constructive middle ground between us and the customer. The goal -- especially in retail -- is to create a long term relationship with subsequent interactions rather than just a one-time transaction.

MAGIC words or phrases are personal, specific [how can I help, when...] and empathetic, unlike tragic words or phrases that put distance, create uneasiness, imply lack of action or responsibility, are impersonal, vague and unclear, and/or use inappropriate slang.

The authors describe 4 levels of listening [Customers Rock!'s An Interview With Diane Berenbaum - Part 2 addresses listening in more detail as well as the 33 points of MAGIC]:
1. A transactional dialogue focused on task.
2. Rapport building which asks questions.
3. Creating a sense of warmth and perception. This has an empathy focus.
4. Attention or intuitive. The listener remain largely silent and exudes patience.

Most business communications occur at levels 1 and 2. Level 4 captures close relationships where trust and mutual respect exist [think of a parent trying to help a child work through a difficult situation]. Level 3 is the goal in business. The listener is attentive, non judgemental, and genuinely recognizes the other's feelings and perspective. The listening is empathetic with the listener trying to perceive the big picture.

Some tips: be sure to use the customer's name, stay with the customer until the end [i.e., the worst is having someone hang up on you after a 20 minute phone ordeal when you still have questions], and then follow up!

Do you realize that only 4% of dissatisfied customers actually complain? The remainder just leave and spread the bad news. Those who complain, yet are satisfied, become 8% more loyal than if they had had no problem. Resolving problems then represents an opportunity to build relationship.

From a retail perspective, the salesperson represents the ultimate message in-store. This is particularly true in a consultative selling situation where the salesperson must communicate knowledge in way that provides VALUE to customer.

[Note: for a flooring retailer focused on selling fashionable solutions for a consumer's home, be sure that your salespeople exude design sensibilities.]

A great impression comes from using welcoming words with an upbeat tone, at a moderate pace. Body language is positive [smile, appear upright/open, make eye contact, offer a firm handshake]. Think about the great impressions others have had on you. What did you notice that you reacted so positively to?

The strong focus on empathy and listening had me wondering whether gender ever comes up with MAGIC. Are women better at it than men? In training, in listening skills, in communication skills? Here is what Diane Berenbaum had to say:

"We find that MAGIC is gender-neutral. We focus instead on communication style. Our individual communication styles can influence our interactions and their outcomes. Both men and women share two distinct styles of communicating: Directive and Supportive, though we all have different degrees of preference.

Generally speaking: When communicating with a Directive Style, the focus is on telling, conveying facts and getting something done. This style is task-centered. When communicating with a Supportive Style, the focus is on listening, connecting and seeking understanding. This style is relationship-centered.

One style is not necessarily dominant in either gender. An emphasis on either style can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation, the role or the relationship. Truly effective communicators read their audience and blend the two styles to achieve their purpose.

We have a choice in how we respond to any situation or contact. The focus of MAGIC is to understand your style preferences and develop the ability to draw on both directive and supportive communication styles as the need arises."

Interesting. It particularly makes sense when you think that at different times we may just as easily be in customer mode or in supplier mode.

Erica Stritch from Communico [who provided me with a complimentary copy of the book] also invited me to attend a webinar titled Shift into High Gear: 4 Drivers to Rev Up Quality and Consistency in Call Centers during which Tom Larkin, Senior Vice President of Communico Customer Service Training and co-author of How To Talk To Customers; Jason Checketts, Manager of learning and development at Wells Fargo; and Monica Kelly, quality analyst, account services at Colonial Supplemental Insurance teamed up to provide tips on how to achieve exceptional service consistency.

The webinar brought up the loyalty effect resulting from employees who stay with an organization. Their tenure creates value for the organization. MAGIC not only creates satisfied customers who stay with you, but it also develops satisfied employees who remain and create even greater value with customers. That's magical!

By the way, I witnessed MAGIC firsthand with Tom dealing ever so gracefully with technical issues.

If you're intrigued with the subject matter, in addition to reading the book, consider subscribing to the Communico Newsletter.

Can you imagine a more critical skill than figuring out how to talk to customers? I can't.

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