Spelling Matters

At its core, a leader’s job is to convince people to willingly do stuff. (By contrast, prison guards are paid to convince people to do stuff against their will–which do you have at your company?)

To be successful at his or her job, a leader only has one legitimate tool: Communication. Everything else is gimmicks or props to help with that single tool.

Martin Luther King, Jr. never carried a gun or used a hammer. He moved the world with the power of his words and nothing more. Same with John F. Kennedy. Same with Gandhi. Same with Carl Sagan, Hedy Lamarr, Mother Theresa, and nearly every other leader you can think of.

Yet… so many leaders neglect the only tool they have. I see countless emails with spelling errors from people expecting to, hoping to, or actually charged with leading others.

Spelling matters. Grammar matters. The power of a leader is not in their title. Neither Gandhi nor Martin Luther King, Jr. were appointed “Manager of Peaceful Relations”. The only title most people knew Hedy Lamarr by was “actress” though she was one of the most brilliant inventors of her time. A leader’s power and influence comes not from a title but from what they speak and write.

You could argue a leader’s power and influence also comes from what they do (their actions) but I assert if a leader’s speaking and writing is in alignment, his actions will automatically align with those values. Show me a sloppy speaker who leads by action alone and I will show you a comic book hero, like Batman. A real-world true leader has one core tool–communication. Everything else stems from that. Her actions are only as good as how well she professes to use them (both to herself and others).

Of course, no one is perfect but if you are hoping to lead others using the one tool you have and you do not know the difference between “there”, “they’re”, and “their”, or “to”, “two”, and “too”, and  you are too lazy to learn, then you are openly displaying your incompetence at leading… and other people see it.

You may not think spelling names correctly is a big deal or a few typos in an email is acceptable because you are busy. Consider instead that every typo, misspelling, grammar faux pas, and run-on sentence is a signal to the person who caught it that you do not know what you are doing. Spelling matters. Grammar matters.

If you are leading, or want to lead effectively, take the time to proof-read your messages. Use spell-check. Look up words you are unsure of. Learn the nuance of language (or at least the basic construction of sentences). Practice being precise in your writing and speaking, which will lead to precision in thinking, and thus to precision in action.

Precision with spelling and grammar leads to precision everywhere. Sloppiness in your writing and speaking leads to sloppiness everywhere.

Alternatively, if you prefer your career path to ultimately end at the tip of a fast-food chain’s spatula, than dont worry about you’re speling and grammer and you could end up their! 

 

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Don’t You Secretly Hate Having Customers?

Thanks to several flight delays, I spent 10 hours in an airport waiting for a 2-hour flight. Trying to reach Baltimore from Atlanta, I was delayed by a plane in Kansas City, that was delayed by weather. Obviously, airlines do not control weather, or delays caused by weather, but they DO control our experience of those delays.

Airports have essentially become homogenized strip malls selling low quality food and services at theme park prices. Worse, it seems no one in charge of customer experience at an airline or airport has ever visited a busy theme park.

Why is the airport experience so bad?

Airlines have been around longer than Disney Land, yet they seem to have learned nothing about lines, customer happiness, or engagement. There appears to be little to no incentive for airports to desire happy customers.

Imagine if Disney ran our airports. Waiting in long TSA lines would at least be entertaining. Prices would fluctuate based on demand. There might be better line management, with quick pass options. No doubt planes would fill faster and run more efficiently–perhaps even more safely.

After reaching my destination, I settled into my hotel room and logged onto their Wi-Fi, which was, itself, an effort in frustration. A few hours later, when I woke up, I had to log on again because the internet access expired.

Why do hotels reset their wi-fi every 24 hours? Are they afraid their transient guests will fly back from their homes to steal the hotel’s internet? On top of that, I could have paid for “upgraded” (meaning “faster than dial-up”) service. Why would you create a caste system for your guests?

The hotel internet and the airport line experience are both indicative of the same problem–businesses that have no connection to the people who consume their services.

The joke is, everybody knows how bad the airport experience is… except the airports and airlines! Everyone I know that has ever stayed at a hotel has complained about hotel internet. The only people who do not seem to know what a frustrating morass it is for their customers… is the hotels!

How many ways does your business undermine its success by being oblivious to the experience being had by your customers? How many pain points do you have between you and the people who want to buy (and enjoy buying) your products or services?

Where are you creating friction instead of smoothing the path for your clients to keep coming back for more?

Is it your return process? Is it the attitude of your front line employees (which means you might want to look at your hiring process)? Is it the jenky credit card reader that holds up your lines? Is it the long lines themselves, inviting clients to complain about your store to each other while waiting to give you their money?

Find the “invisible” pain points and shed light on them. If you can’t resolve them immediately, educate your customers on what you are doing to try.

If you are not working to create a better customer experience, you can rest assured your competition is.

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Is the Promise of Technology Broken?

We create cars with the promise of ubiquitous and unlimited travel. Then we tax gas, add license fees, mandate expensive insurance, set speed limits and otherwise make owning a car as much a punishment as a privilege.

We create computers with the promise of ubiquitous and instantaneous access to information, media, and communication. Then we tax the actual data transmission, inhibit download and upload speeds, force consumers to pay for network expansions rather than compete for consumers, and pretend there are dichotomies between computers you carry in your pocket and computers you set on a desk.

We create debit cards and electronic banking with the promise of ubiquitous access to our hard-earned money in a cashless world with unlimited shopping options. Then we tax access to our money, add fees for fake convenience, and subscribe to an absurdly convoluted system of credit punishment.

The best I can hope is that one day a future generation (maybe the children of your children’s children) will be so over-taxed, over-burdened, and over-tired of being punished for enjoying the fruits of their labor that they are forced to live by candlelight, walk everywhere, and read text on an archaic medium nostalgically referred to as “books”.

Only then, will there be hope that enough of them will trip across stories like “Atlas Shrugged”, “Animal Farm”, and “Starship Troopers”. Maybe then, forced to read and communicate with each other face-to-face in conversation… maybe then, they will be fed up enough to say “NO!” and create a better world rather than accept the one they have is the best they can “afford”.

Maybe when the promise of technology and innovation is once again a promise instead of a broken, limp excuse to take more… maybe then the world will be full of unlimited potential instead of filled with nothing but potential.

Just my two cents. Please don’t tax that.

 

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3 Crucial Social Media Tips To Reach Customers

FaceBook, Google+, Twitter, and other social media platforms offer access to customers that has never before been so embraced, inviting, and ubiquitous. It is a shame to watch companies squander this opportunity every day, as I ignore post-after-boring-post on each of these social megaphones. Here are 3 ways (of many) to use Marketing Mojo and reach your raving fans, helping them spread the word about your mission or company:

1. Show some character. If you have a single person or a few people in charge of your social media, let their personalities come through. This is the biggest miss for most companies. I am not interested in a generic question-of-the-day or blanket boring statement about your product or service or a recipe I can look up myself. I want to know what you are thinking about or what you find funny or why I should buy from you or visit your store (hint: a blanket boring statement about your product is not a reason for me to visit your store, nor is a sale unless it is a remarkable one–sales happen all the time, everywhere–boring). Check out the subtle differences between these posts and see how the posts your company pushes align:

BAD: “Summer’s here! What’s your favorite ice cream?”

BETTER: “It’s 80 degrees out! Perfect for ice cream. John’s fave flavor is Rocky Road. What do you feel like today?”

BAD: “Big sale today! All widgets 15-50% off!”

BETTER: “I don’t know what I would do without my widget. When I remember something important while driving, I just use the voice memo button to make sure I don’t forget. How do you use your widget safely on the go?” (In the comments… “That’s a great use for it John! By the way, all widgets are on sale today at our ____ location!)

2. Interact. FaceBook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, and others offer nearly perfect ways to interact both publicly and privately with your fans (your most important customers). If your profile is set-up not to allow incoming messages or posts to your page, etc., then you are insulting the trust and integrity of your fans. You are essentially saying, “Not only do I not want to hear from you because you might complain or have a question I do not want to be bothered with, but also I don’t trust any of you enough to believe you can be polite and respectful on my page. So screw off. Oh, and buy my widgets.”

3. Diversify or Simplify. Choose one social media platform and lock in on it. Make it THE place to see what is going with your company. Or, choose several platforms but be sure each one has something different to offer. Do not make your FaceBook post the same as your Tweet, your Snap, or your anything else. Let each platform showcase a different side of your personality. For example, use FaceBook to ask questions. Use Twitter to announce sales and share industry articles. Use Instagram to promote pictures of your product. Use SnapChat to highlight short videos of your team outings. You get the idea. Use One for All but don’t use All for One.

 

I’m not a big fan of posts about timely topics, such as social media, but I love to see great brands succeed. Hopefully these tips help.

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Bullies Suck

Life teaches me a lesson every day. I figure out what each day’s lesson is and then I share it with you… so life teaches us both lessons every day!

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I would like to tell you about a terrible business I dealt with recently but I can’t. In parting ways, I agreed to sign a gag-order which detailed that I could not talk about them, or disparage them on social media, or acknowledge that they bullied me into signing something that essentially said I could not bully them back.

I do not think it violates the terms of the gag order, though, to tell you I moved recently, and I will just leave it at that.

I struggled (a LOT) with whether I was going to sign it or tear it up in front of them and fight it all the way. When I say I struggled, I mean, there were late nights and tears involved, and it took a lot of time to swallow enough pride to do something I feel violates my own moral code (not to mention my First Amendment right).

I hate bullies. I can not help but stand up to people who think they have the right to push others around. Even worse, I hate businesses that do the same. If I lose a customer, I want to know if I can save them. If I can’t, I want to know if I could have, and when. I want to know what I could have done differently.

What I don’t do is make my customers sign something that says they can’t tell anybody I am a shithead. I understand there are people who I am not a great flavor for. There are people who talk bad about me. There is probably somebody doing it now. But that’s okay. They have a right to feel however they feel and they can tell whoever they want about it. My actions, integrity, and character speak for themselves and when they don’t, other people will step in to defend me if they feel I am being attacked unfairly.

I have as much right to defend myself as anyone has to attack me. In the end, though, I realized two things… and I signed the paper (though still heavy-hearted about it).

  • A year from now, it won’t even matter. I will be living somewhere happily and the experience would have just been a bad day I barely remember.
  • A business that needs gag orders is already doing a better job of destroying their business than I can.

 

The great thing about bullies is that they are their own worst enemy.

 

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Young At Heart, Old In Habits

I think of a lesson I have learned in life each day and then I share each lesson with you, in case you have run out of your own…

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Stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a tragically deaf teenager scanning through radio stations, searching for something that appealed to him.

I know he was deaf because I was more than a car length behind him on his left, with my windows rolled up, and I could hear his radio better than my own. I assume he needed it so loud to feel the sound reverberate through his seat since he obviously could not hear the words or music.

What fascinated me, though, was that he was listening to the radio. Old school, with DJ’s and commercials, and everything. It seemed anachronistic for a teen to scroll through radio stations while the older guy behind him simply told his car to “Play my podcasts”. I was enjoying commercial-less, hand-picked content just for me while he did what I used to do 20 years ago.

I am surprised that terrestrial radio is still alive but the more I think about it, the more I realize that young people are not as forward-thinking or innovative as most of us would believe. For example, look at the computer. Why am I still interfacing with my blogs through a keyboard? Why does a computer still emulate a typewriter anyway? It is nice to see gesture and voice commands beginning to take over but why didn’t we start that way? Or with something better? Why do we still use cars when we could have much better options available? Why isn’t there something way cooler than cars already?

It is interesting to me how much we cling to familiarity and tradition, even when we have all the resources to create truly mind-blowing things. Old habits die hard, but wouldn’t it be better if we let them die sooner so we could live to build new habits? Imagine how the world might look if computers were better than a glorified replacement for a typewriter? If cars weren’t a fresh take on horse and buggies but something completely different? If what replaced radio and cable was not fancier radio and cable but something that threw out those ideas and tried something totally different?

That poor, deaf teenager never seemed to find what he was looking for. I would have told him about Google Music, Librivox, Pocketcast, or Audible, but I never learned sign language. Of course, I probably would not have told him anything he didn’t know already because… well… you can’t teach a new dog old tricks (but what is a “new” dog, anyway?).

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Should Speeding Tickets Be Illegal?

 

I share a life lesson every day–something I have learned and applied (or am trying to apply)–not something I heard or read and am repeating. Then I share each day’s lesson with you because… well, why not?

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On my way home from work, traffic was unusually backed up (and this is Tampa… an hour and twenty minutes to drive 31 miles is “usual” for me). After 20 minutes of inching my way along the freeway, I saw what the hold up was.

Someone was pulled over and being issued a ticket. Now, to be fair, I am not certain what the ticket was for, but unless it was for reckless driving, drunk driving, or unbearable cuteness, I can not think of a more useless and reprehensible thing for a police officer to do during rush hour.

(Don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for law enforcement officials and what they do. I just hate speeding tickets.)

I do not like that speeding tickets are part of our culture. Their very existence offends me. I would even say they are blatantly evil. Reckless driving, I understand. Driving under the influence of a controlled substance–okay. Not wearing a safety belt? Not really anybody’s business but at least I can accept it is for some loosely defined “greater good”. But speeding? No. The very idea that, as a society, we choose to punish people for being in a hurry is ludicrous.

We create cars that can travel nearly 200 miles per hour but we are forced to never take them over 70 mph on the freeway.  That is like giving somebody a million dollars but telling them they have to live on $5 a day. It is nonsensical. It is inherently stupid. And it is doubly so when cars are backed up for miles, inconveniencing hundreds, if not thousands, of people trying to get home. It is bad enough that we all must suffer through poorly managed traffic systems and wait at red lights even when there is no other traffic in sight. Punishing people for hurrying only adds insult to injury.

Speeding tickets are dumb.

As always, this is a lesson that can be applied in other places. What are the speeding tickets your organization delivers to your top performers? What are the ways you impede the flow of traffic in your relationships for no practical reason?

Remove the rules that are bad. Keep the ones that are good. And if it is rush hour do not pull anyone over unless you have an inarguable, rational reason to do so.

 

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Why Tip?

I come up with a lesson I learned in the course of living every day, and then I share it on this blog. Here is what I thought about today…

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I am a fairly generous tipper. I always drop 20% and round-up, even if service is less than par. I am especially generous when I am recognized as a regular customer or if service is truly exceptional.

Perhaps oddly, I am actually anti-tipping. I give in to the social pressure like most people, and I empathize with service workers, but I think the practice should be done away with altogether. I will even say I think it is despicable that we allow entire industries to rely on customers to subsidize employee wages. Why do I have to help you avoid paying your people fairly while trying to run my business?

Can you imagine if every business paid all employees $2 per hour and relied on employees to subsidize the salaries of every other business? What would our cell phone bills look like then?

What is even stranger is the nearly exclusively American practice of tipping at the end of a meal or service. When I visited the Middle East, I was impressed that it is common to tip your server upfront and the amount of the tip determines the level of extra attention you receive. As far as tipping goes, I think tipping upfront is better but I still think tipping should not be an acceptable use of one’s hard-earned money. You do not spend your life working, expecting to give 20% or more of your money away (and that’s before taxes, health care, bills, holidays, and everything else).

When I tip my barista at Starbucks (which, in my opinion is the most egregious form of tipping–they literally turn around and hand me something–is that really tip-worthy?), I can not help but wonder what the point is. Even as a return customer, my latte tastes the same every time. Starbucks and other big brands have built their business on consistency. In other words, tipping generally provides no bonus for me (the customer). I do not receive an extra side perk for tipping and that is especially true if I am a first-time or unrecognized customer. I am treated like anyone else. I am just the usual cattle walking in to graze and ushered out as quickly as possible so the next set of cows can sit.

I am not advocating for everyone to stop tipping, by the way. I think it would be laudable if employers turned the practice away in favor of better wages, but until that happens, I feel compelled to tip.

I am just asking if maybe the concept of tipping should be re-evaluated. Maybe there is a better way, such as the alternative used in the Middle East and elsewhere. Maybe not.

What do you think? Should tipping remain a staple of society–a voluntary but expected pre-determined way to subsidize salaries and acknowledge work well (or even meagerly) done? Should we move to Tipping 2.0, and what does that look like? Or, are you an irascible curmudgeon like me, who thinks tipping… is for cows?

 

(P.S. Tipping is not for cows.)

 

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Your Worst Customer

Every day I think about a lesson learned over the past 48 hours–a real life-lesson I can apply to my life and share with you. Here is what I thought about today…

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I am still unhappy with my experience flying Delta recently. I paid an up-charge for a seat that was double-booked (and it was not refunded to me). I was stuck behind a crying, stinky baby (not Delta’s fault, except I should not have been in that seat but rather in the seat I paid for). The air conditioning unit on the plane went out and we were stuck on the tarmac for nearly an hour as the temperature rose until the mechanics could arrive and turn the unit off and then back on, which worked. The worst part, though, was that once we were in the air, they made us listen to a 2-minute promotion for some airline credit card. Forcing a captive audience to hear your scammy sales pitch has to be a new low in Marketing. What a shame.

I have been debating trying to contact Delta about my experience (I did tweet about it as it was happening) but the thing is, I am rather busy. I am writing this blog, I work full-time, and I have hobbies and social obligations. In the end, sending a letter potentially into limbo is not worth my time, and that got me thinking…

Your worst customer is not the one who keeps coming back and complaining. Your worst customer is not the one your employees dread as soon as they see them walk through the door. It is not the customer you avoid. It is not even the customer who is trying to scam you.

Your worst customer is the one that never comes back.

How many sales have you (or your team or your company) let slip through the cracks? How many people have had a bad experience but never tell you about it? They tell everyone else when it comes up in conversation, but they never take the time to tell you because they are too busy, tired, or ambivalent about it? After all, there are a lot of other airlines and choices out there.

Get to know your worst customers before they get to forget about you.

 

 

 

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Your Pet Thinks You’re Crazy

I look back on each day and figure out what lesson I learned from it. Then, I share each day’s lesson with you. Here is today’s…

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I have been thinking about Time lately, and one thing I realized is we humans are the only creatures who have any long-term sense of it. Our pets, for example, live in a world that runs on the most rudimentary mathematical equation: cause and effect. When I do This, That happens. They live without any context for living.

In some ways, this means they enjoy more satisfaction with life–pets do not have the stress of making ends meet, maintaining relationships, or worrying about their environment. They do not even have the context of sanitation to be mindful of their hygiene. In other ways, it means they have no appreciation for the nuances or consequences of living and therefore, have less satisfaction with life–they have no fascination for rainbows, no appreciation of the work put in to feed them, no gratitude for their toys or the people in their lives.

Can you imagine what it must be like for the dog whose exasperated master rubs the dog’s nose in the dog’s urine when the dog pees on the floor? To the dog, the math was simple: he had to pee, that was the best spot he could find. The dog has none of the context around the master’s stressful day at work, the cherry-wood stain on the floor, the fact that they have to keep living there, or the amount of time and effort needed to clean the mess.

People argue that the dog knows he is in trouble, but does he? From the dog’s perspective, probably the best explanation he can conjure is, “Sometimes when I pee in my cell, the people who locked me in prison go ballistic. I have no idea what they expected me to do instead. I’m hoping they don’t notice this time because the last time they completely lost their sh*t and forced my face into it. And then 20 minutes later, they treat me well. This is one messed up situation.” 

Of course, it is not even that sophisticated. The dog has no concept of prisons, cells, bad, good, punishment, or reward. The world is simply a very confusing morass of double standards, random beatings, and meaningless love. What we consider to be loyalty, the dog might think is simply the safest bet. “Despite these people being complete nutters, I can’t imagine how much worse it could be without them.” Then again, no wonder they often try to escape and make it on their own.

The context of our lives is what makes life meaningful, which means it can also rob meaning from parts of life. We make some parts more meaningful than other parts. Sometimes the dog is important. Sometimes the dog is an excuse to vent negative emotions. To the dog, though, it is all the same. You are a crazy person.

To bring this back to Time, the dog has no context from which to remember peeing on the floor is bad. The dog just knows you are random and crazy and sometimes treat the dog well, sometimes poorly.

For us, it is the context of the past that gives meaning to the present and future.

 

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