Monday, February 23, 2009

How Can I Help You!

The current issue of Business Week is titled “Extreme Customer Service” and the lead article is titled “Where Service Means Survival.”

The issue showcases top brands that are delivering top customer service.

Among the top are some high-end brands like Lexus, Jaguar, Cadillac, BMW, Nordstrom and The Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

Also on the list are some more “mainstream” brands like Ace Hardware, True Value, Publix, JetBlue, Marriott and Trader Joes.

Over the weekend, I shopped twice at Home Depot and have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the customer service.

As soon as I entered the store, there was a person at the door asking me how they could help me. As I went through the store, there was a Home Depot person at the end of nearly every aisle ready to help and assist.

And I wasn’t the only person to notice.

In fact, several of the shoppers made comment about how nice and different the service seemed to be.

On Sunday, I went and shopped at Trader Joe’s and I heard some of the customers making similar commentary.

They especially loved how they could find one person who would answer questions and help them find what they couldn’t find on their own…without having to wait or work through a chain of individuals.

In Business Week, one of the articles cites that “waiting on hold” is the number one consumer complaint…nearly 55% of those surveyed say that “the purgatory of hold” is the most annoying experience.

“Waiting for 15 minutes to talk to a representative only to be put on hold for 10 more minutes to be transferred to someone else only then to have my line go dead.”

I remember back in the 1980s when I started in the business that we all talked about how America was shifting from a product manufacturing to service economy.

Course we would all assume that the same principles of quality manufacturing would extend over to service delivery…right?

Across our client categories – whether retail, restaurants, financial, automotive – the resounding customer issue with the brand experience we bring back to the planning table….the customer service sucks.

While not the biggest fan of government regulation, I sometimes wonder if counterparts to folks like the FDA on the service side of business might be required.

Not that we are really experts, but here at BrandVenture, we are strong advocates that human behavior is just as critical of a predictor of brand success as the conventional MBA financial models.

Human Behavior is to a service economy what Engineering is to a manufacturing economy.

But the challenge is that Human Behavior is far less mechanical, far less repetitive in production and delivery and far less predictable.

And too many companies have tried to marry Human Behavior with Engineering that has resulted in the long wait times that makes customers feel like no one is really there to even help.

As I have said in recent Blog-logues…as much as we hate to be in recession, down economies often do a great job of “cleaning house.”

The MBA mindset will have to change…it is way too hooked on brand attributes and the benefit pay-off versus a focus on the broader overall brand experience.

It’s great to see Business Week highlighting the companies that are delivering top quality service.

Just like individuals today hit “click” when they come upon mediocre websites… customers today will not tolerate mediocre service.

My only suggestion to Business Week is to replace the word “EXTREME” in its issue headline as the adjective in describing “customer service” and maybe consider replacing it with “expected,” or “essential,” or “everyday,” or “established,” or “enjoyable” or “engaged” or …

Hey, I get the message loud and clear… get out from behind the desk, put on a smile, and repeat after me…”how can we help you today?”

AND REALLY… How can WE HELP YOU TODAY?... Email us and let us know!...we’re ready to jump in with you and Journey!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Heretical Ideas Win…Desperate Strategy Sinks Ships!

When I saw the ad for the third time last night, I immediately made it a top priority to feature it on this week’s Blog.

More about that ad in a minute…

Earlier in the evening, on ABC Nightly News, they interviewed the flight crew that landed the plane on the Hudson.

One of the flight attendants told the story that as soon as the plane hit the water, a passenger got up and dashed to the back of the plane and opened up the back escape hatch. Unfortunately, the tail was underwater and opening it up started to flood the plane.

Fortunately, the flight attendant was able to get the passenger under control and re-routed them to the wing exits where the passenger was shortly thereafter rescued by one of the local ferryboats.

What a great illustration of how desperation can sink a ship…or in this case, a plane!

The brand that is the “star” of that ad running last night is about as desperate in its quest to survive as the person on the Hudson…

To be even more exact… the marketing and ad team client-side and the ad agency that produced the ad are probably hyperventilating even now as they watch the IV feeder tubes dry up.

The ad compares the Escalade to the MINI Cooper S.

Need I say more?

Here is what Justin Berkowitz, one of our fellow bloggers posted about the ad…

“Did the ad agency really know who the potential buyers of Escalades are? Apparently an ad man was envisioning a fiscally-conscious, sensibly green guy sitting in front of his high-def set and having an epiphany.”

And here is more posted from some of the other bloggers…

“I want the 30 seconds of my life back that I wasted watching this commercial.”

“Wow. Thanks for setting me straight GM. What was I thinking? I’m definitely buying one of those giant hybrid trucks!”

“This last desperate attempt by their ad agency to jump start sales of these nearly extinct and overpriced dinosaurs is comical at best.”

“It seems that GM and their ad agency are trying hard to throw anything at the wall and see what sticks…or doesn’t.”

“Comparing GM to MINI Coopers is like comparing something really cool to a thug.”

“How many MINI owners do they think also have these big SUV pimp-mobiles in their consideration mix.”

“Watching this commercial is like looking at a chain-smoking, overweight, cancer-ridden guy living his last days fantasizing that he’s Superman while he sucks on his oxygen tank… oh yeah… and the agency that produced it is his dog that obeys every rule clinging to his side.”


In ideation sessions that we facilitate for clients…we do an exercise we call “Dogma-Heresy” in which we look at how competitive brands are being presented and advertised and then put together a list of the similarities – or the dogma – that they are all doing.

We then have participants jot down ideas, thoughts and approaches that others in the industry would find heretical.

As a facilitator…my primary task is to squelch the critiques and negative commentary and let the ideas flow.

The exercise actually generates some great ideas.

Innovative ideas are great. Desperation strategy is something totally different.

Innovative thinking flows best when participants build off of what others share versus critique, dictate and command.

Go online and Google GM and MINI and you can see more of what others think about this last breath attempt to save a dying brand.

Then go look in the mirror and if you have any inkling of doing something similar to GM and their ad agency, call us at 404.245.9378 and we’ll set up the intervention ideation session that can save you from the fall!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hey! Let's Journey Into The American Middle Class!

They are the hot topic of the news and blogs…the American Middle Class.

And the picture painted is one of the working class parents, two kids, dog and cat living in that 3 bedroom-2 bath suburban tract home.

We hear about how they work day-in – day-out to strive to pay off their credit cards, make the house payment and get dinner on the table to feed the family.

The media, politico and marketing mavericks love to craft and fuel simple, digestible stereotypes of the human diversity that comprises society.

Too much of the time, we sit behind our desks and lean on those same stereotypes.

Get a load of some of these new American Middle Class stats…
• More Millenniums and GenXers make up the American Middle Class than Boomers and Matures
• More than two-thirds of the American Middle Class believes that they are better off compared to their parents when they were the same age a generation ago
• Nearly twice as many of the American Middle Class say that they are “living comfortably” as the number of Middle Class Americans “barely getting by”
• Nearly five times as many the Americans place higher importance on having free time and having children than being wealthy
• Only 38% of Middle Class America favors the current stimulus package now up for Senate review and vote…down from just over 50% a week ago!

So is there more to Middle Class America than Joe The Plumber?

Just last night I had one of those “aha experiences” that open up how we think and how we view the changes taking place around us.

I am currently taking a class at Emory University that explores modern day cultures and is held once a week at one of the area restaurants.

Last night, I sat across the table from a very fascinating young lady who is an instructional text writer for one of the software companies in our fair city of Atlanta.

She has a college degree in finance and lives in a townhouse in one of the fashionable suburban Atlanta neighborhoods.

She works daily with technical programmers and watches how they load and interact with software programming and then translates their actions and process flow into instructional text.

Last week she completed a 45-page manual in less than three days!


What is interesting about this person is that she is part of what we term the “American Middle Class” with an income that is nearly the median reported in 2008 – about $52,000 a year.

I don’t know about you…but when I get out from behind my desk and get out and dwell with the real people behind the labels, I glean some cool insights and perspectives!

Cool insights and perspectives that generate consumer interest, cultivate brand loyalty and drive dollars to the bottomline!

Numbers and text can reveal some things…but there’s nothing quite like joining up with the change agents themselves!

So to kick off 2009 right, we are launching a new website this week where others can come and hop on the bus with us on the field trips and cultural anthropology digs among the trend-setters and trend-benders that are driving market change!

The new site is

Check it out… And our first journey is into the communities, lives, headsets and heartbeats of Middle Class America!

See who really makes up what we label as the American Middle Class.

Come meet up with the “Young Pioneers,” “Blue Chip Homesteaders” and “Intown Rooted Classics”!

Click on the Videocasts and check out their dreams, passions and perspectives.

Let us know what issues and cultures you want to explore more.

Best yet, call us and join us out in the field and just like the website says…

Hey! Let’s Journey! ...