Who are you?

Do your audiences know who you are when you’re talking to them? Are you making dangerous assumptions?

I want to share a recent email experience I had that really brought home for me the risk of not taking care to clearly identify yourself in all the channels you deal with your customers through.

I was looking for a solar system wall mural for my son’s room and doing some research online. After investigating a few sites that offered the mural I was looking for, I chose the cheapest and placed my order.

Within a short while I received the standard “your order has been received email” and was told I would be notified when it shipped. So far so, good. A couple of hours later I received another email telling me my order of a wall mural had shipped and included a tracking link. All was right with the world. But hold on, a little after that, I received a third email also telling me my order had shipped and including a tracking link (different than the first). Okay, so now I’m confused. I look a little closer at the emails in the inbox on my iPhone and I see that the first and third email are from a company called McMaps.com and the middle one from a company called McCarthy’s Geographics.

Immediately I assume that I somehow accidentally placed an order at a second company while price shopping. Not wanting to deal with returning one of them, I fired off a response to the McCarthy’s email asking them to cancel the order because it was a mistake. Dale on the other end was really helpful and he managed to track down my order and stop it before it made it onto the truck. He also told me that my order was submitted with a credit card and all details. How, I wondered, did I manage that if I was just checking prices?

That lead me to ask the question that should have been obvious, ‘are you the same company as McMaps?’ Yes, Dale replied, McMaps is our online entity. Crap. I had just canceled my only order.

You could explore why they send two shipping confirmations with different links or why I was so dumb as to not notice the url in the address was the same, but the part that struck me the most was why a company would use different names when talking to its customers. Especially when you are dealing with people in the impersonal space of the internet.

In my own work as a marketer for a trucking insurance company, we have undergone the process of creating detailed customer journey maps for our various segments. These basically outline the hoops we make someone jump through to do business with us. They are explained in much better detail in a great book by Allen Adamson called Brand Simple.

What these maps told us was that we have a tremendously complex relationship with some of our customers. We touch them a lot. What we also know, though, is that to a lot of them we are collectively know as “them” or “they” or “the insurance company.” The point I am trying to make is that they reduce our multiple faces and names down to a single word or a phrase. They don’t deal in multiple contacts, they can’t keep up.

Think of the last time you got a call from your insurance company. Do you remember the name of the person who called? Now imagine if the name of the company changed with different interactions; or because a division branded itself, you’d get a call from ABC or FGH, but they are all from DEF. Or what if, as in my case, it’s a company you have never dealt with before? Do you follow me?

We know the “from” field in email marketing is one of the most important factors in open rates. We sweat over it (I do, anyway). Let’s make sure we sweat over that same concept in other areas of the business, too. It can make a big difference.

In the end, I reinstated my order because Dale was so helpful. But had he not made a diving catch, I may have taken a very different path.


I’m addicted to my iPhone

My addiction


It was at a neighbour’s house when I realized it. We were talking about something – I can’t remember what – when a fact came into question. I immediately reached for my iPhone, a vision of my Google app flashing through my mind, but then I remembered I had left it at home. 

There was actually a moment when I considered getting up and running home to get it. Yep, I’m addicted to my iPhone. 

My wife had suggested as much before, but I had always brushed it off. Ridiculous, I just make use of a convenient technology. I don’t know when it became more than convenient, but I’m sure it happened fast. 

This all reminded me of a blog I read recently created by some journalism students (18to34.org) about a research project they did. In it, they interviewed some young entrepreneurs who said they want brief news at their disposal whenever they are moved by the whim to read it. It seems I’m not alone in my need for instant access to information. 

This need for instant gratification tells me that if a customer can’t find the information they’re looking for from you, at the exact moment they need it, they’ll move onto the company that can. That creates a whole slew of challenges that will have to be solved. It also tells me that, in the future, when I forget my iPhone at home, there will likely be a couple of others there who can Google the answer for me, when I need it.

Three questions you must answer

I recently completed a Facilitative Leadership course at the Schulich Executive Education Centre. The course was designed to help managers lead people better, but many of the concepts in the course jumped out at me as having application in the way we interact with and market to our customers.

One of those concepts was that every interaction contains three elements that each person is looking to understand from the other person involved:

  1. Do I matter?
  2. Am I competent?
  3. Can I influence the situation?

Now think about an organization or a brand you have had a bad experience with and ask yourself how those questions were answered.  Do you feel you matter when you are left on hold for 20 minutes? What about the computer sales person who talks a mile over your head? Feeling competent?

These are pretty simple concepts, and it makes sense that we want to get them from each other to have a healthy relationship. The alternative is being controlled or patronized. Just listening to what someone is saying, acknowledging their point of view and working with them to find a solution – even if it’s not the one they really wanted – can make a real connection. I think I’ll be looking for how my company is answering these questions.

How about you?

It’s the small things

It’s always the small things that make a big difference, but often that’s what we forget.

A few months ago I took a family trip to Rochester, New York – home of the Strong National Museum of Play; one of the most underrated tourist attractions in the US, but that’s another story. In looking for a hotel I had a few simple criteria: near the city centre, reasonably priced, clean with a pool. I did some research and on Expedia and TripAdvisor and came up with a few options, but one stood out for me: the Country Inn & Suites.

The main reason it stood out for me was through the customer reviews. Not because the reviews were so much better than their competition; they were good, but others were, too. The reason the hotel stood out was because someone had responded to each and every review on TripAdvisor. When a complaint was registered, he or she addressed it directly. When someone made a positive comment, the hotel employee thanked them. Nothing more, a simple thank you and well wishes. This set something off in my brain. I figured if a hotel understood social media like this, maybe they understood some other things about customer experience.

My gamble paid off. Let me preface this, though. This hotel is not a five-star. Not the Hilton. It was a middle-of-the-pack, moderately-priced hotel. But they paid attention to the small things. When we got there, after a long drive, the front desk staff was incredibly friendly. We felt really welcomed. Okay, friendly staff, ‘big deal’ you say. But I think it is, and it’s a simple thing a lot of companies get wrong. Then, I turn to my right and there’s a display of cookies; three flavours, still warm. I ask tentatively if I can take one. “Sure, help yourself.” We all do. What a way to introduce you to the hotel. Five minutes and already I’ve been surprised by a small touch. There are oranges and apples in a bowl next to the cookies, but let’s be serious.

We continue on to the elevator and pass a stand of three coffee urns that I later find out is kept fresh until late at night.  I grab one. Hey, it’s free!  The next day we venture down to sample the “included breakfast”. Expectations are low. I’m thinking continental, which is hotel-speak for muffins and coffee. Maybe there will be more cookies and an orange if nothing else, I think. To my surprise, a full buffet breakfast awaits. Nothing fancy, but more than expected. Another simple thing.

Waiting in the lobby later that day, I peruse the book shelves to discover they have a book loan program that lets you take any book and return it to any other hotel in the chain, or mail it back if you take it with you. Do they expect to get the books back? Maybe, maybe not. But even if I don’t borrow one, I’m impressed.

None of these things are big, expensive frills. They are small things. Simple surprises that hit you just a bit above your expectations. Paying attention to those small things makes me think you value my business. I’ll go back to this hotel. I’ll recommend it on TripAdvisor. I’ll blog about it. For the cost of a few cookies.