Time for Explanations

Explanations are tough. There are many funny stories and explanations that people have come up with for kids with regards to the typically titled ‘birds and the bees’ discussion, but that’s only one of the many things that parents have to explain to their kids throughout their lifetimes. Sometimes those discussions are hard when they have to talk about things like Alzheimer’s or violent/racial incidents. Others are just part of the course of life like sex and Santa. There’s definitely a wrong way to have discussions, one of the worst things can be refusing to have any discussion at all.

One of the hardest things is not having a good explanation, there are some things that you just can’t explain, and some things that the truth is very hard to accept or believe. A really simple example would be some of those cop/investigation shows where they get to the end of the investigation and it seems like 3 random things happened and as a result someone’s dead. It sounds kind of logical, but at the same time really doesn’t seem like it, and it’s even harder to accept that that’s actually something that happened in real life.

But explanations are important to us, regardless of the age we are. We like knowing how things work, how they’re connected or what leads/led to what. Explanations are great because so often we’re able to get one, with as much investigating as we’ve done over the years and as connected as we are in this day and age thanks to technology. But as I said, sometimes the explanation doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you can investigate further and find out how it does make sense, but other times you’re left at a loss and unable to make heads or tails of it.

In the case of the extreme flooding parts of the world have seen over the past year, several serious shooting incidents including the one in Christchurch a day or so ago, there really isn’t a good answer to give your children, or yourself. Sometimes bad things just happen. So in response you can teach your kids to be smarter, more caring, more considerate and to always do the research. You can’t protect those you love from harm, but you can give them the tools to make the world a better place, and give them the best chance possible to have a life filled with less hurt and loss.

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Dealing with Failures and Outages

The big business news this week so far is about Facebook’s outage on Wednesday and into Thursday for some. Facebook is used by people and businesses alike around the world, so when something like this happens it’s not something they can really brush under the rug. This issue hits on many topics that we’ve talked about recently as well as we talk about frequently like doing business together, communication, customer service and quality, and it also holds a great warning for all of us, so I thought I would share a few thoughts on it today.

Let’s start with the dark side of this whole thing. It can happen to anyone. It can get you bad publicity. It can make you lose customers. It’s something every business should talk about: what to do if there’s a catastrophic failure, what to do if data is lost, what to do if the product fails, what to do if leadership gets caught doing something bad. Being aware of that it could go wrong and having a plan for if it does go wrong is half the battle, the other half has to do with your reaction, communication and actions after the event. You may be able to take the right actions quickly, but if you poorly communicate about the whole thing you may lose any traction you could have made with the speedy repair.

Let’s talk about what Facebook did, that we know at this point. Yes, they obviously got to work on fixing it as soon as possible so more people weren’t affected and those that were would be able to get back on as soon as possible. Then they had a decision to make: how do we communicate this and do we communicate this. They made a really interesting decision, one that I doubt many people would have guessed, and that’s posted on Twitter to let people know what was up. It’s not necessarily the wrong decision (they could have used email), but it is kind of funny and is a good reminder that as much as you want to build a strong business, stronger than your competition, it’s always good to have an open line of communication for situations like these.

The situation will continue to unfold over the next days and weeks, and it will be interesting to see how they follow up on this. What would I like to see? At the very least I’d like to see messages on their Facebook and Instagram accounts sharing about what happened and letting people know it’s fully resolved and if any actions/precautions are being taken in brief with a link to a blog post on their blog with more depth and details. If there were any accounts hacked or breached, those people should be notified by internal message on the network and by email. I’d also like to see them to contact businesses that were actively running paid ads at the time and affected by the outage and fill them in on how the downed network will affect that ad run.

Of course, they may just choose to sweep this under the rug, and for many they’ll just continue on with Facebook as usual. But for the smart business owners, I would hope this serves as a warning that if your only means of supporting your business is through Facebook you should be looking into additional and supplemental ways to market and grow your business. It’s as is often said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. What are your thoughts on the situation?

Subscription Service Smarts

Last week I shared about some confusing communications I’d received recently, this week I wanted to follow up with a discussion on something that many businesses, especially non-profits, rely on: recurring orders/donations. These are a fantastic way of having a consistent source of funds coming into your business that you can rely on as long as you’re offering what they’re buying or they need what you’re offering. These recurring orders can be simply items that people need on a consistent basis (i.e. paper towels and pasta), or a recurring package each month/week of items to try (i.e. beauty or dog items), or a regular subscription like meal kits or clothing outfits. It can also be a consistent monthly donation that goes into a particular fund or supports a particular individual.

If you want to improve the sign-ups and keep people signed up there are several things you can do, some that apply to some types of subscriptions and some that apply to others. One is to keep a good balance of new and top favorites as part of the subscription. Another is to make sure you’ve sufficiently tested the new items you’re sending out. Another is to send updates by email and/or mail so people know what’s going on with their donations or they could add to their order.

One of the biggest keys to keeping subscription customers is the ease of updating their information and their order(s), including what they’re ordering and any delivery information as well as their payment methods/options. The more challenging it is and the harder you make for them to find where and how to update the information, the more likely they’ll just cancel it all. Even worse, if they really struggle with changes, they may leave a nasty review about it online or suggest to friends/family who ask not to order from that company. Out of the 8 organizations that I had to update my credit card information with 3 were easy (at least one of which took quite a bit of navigating and effort to change the information), 4 required a phone call (something that shouldn’t be necessary if you can donate online), and for one the site refused to update the donation so I canceled the subscription and just made a one time donation (and will try again next month). Clearly there’s a lot of progress yet to be made with these organizations, and that’s just a small slice of all the organizations that you can do a subscription/donation with.

What about you? If you offer a subscription program do you make it easy for your subscribers to update their information and stay up to date about what’s going on and their options?

Confusing Communications

One of the biggest aspects to running a successful business is being able to get paid.  Whether you’re running a for-profit or non-profit business your people have to be able to contribute to your work or purchase from you if you want to stay in business.  Technology has made it easier than ever to connect people (and their money) with things and organizations around the world, which enables businesses to have more potential customers than ever before and gives customers more options than ever.

Recently the inevitable happened and one of my credit cards came up to the expiration date, and that’s where the confusion began. I got an email from the credit card company notifying me that the card was going to expire soon (in about 2-3 months), then I got a second email letting me know that a new card would be coming soon (again with almost 2 months to go before it expired), then I got an email from a non-profit that I have a monthly recurring donation with from a personal email account at the company saying that I needed to update my card information (about a month before the card would expire), then I got a text message that the card was mailed, and then I got an email reminding me to activate my card. Are you feeling as stressed and confused as I am by all that?

I’m all for keeping people in the loop but some of these messages were excessive, some were concerning and some were confusing. The biggest of concern were the text message, the email from the non-profit, and the email about activating my card. I don’t have my account signed up for text messages, so to send me a text message was abnormal and concerning. The email from the non-profit was sent in a regular email message (no logos or recognizable templates) from someone I’d never heard of or talked to. The email about activating my card made it sound like the card arrived weeks ago and I was being blamed for not activating it.

The thing about all of these messages is that the issues are very simple to fix and there’s reason to make the investment in working on them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be sent with recognizable email templates. They’re all able to be crafted in a way that doesn’t sound like the writing was rushed and they can be edited by many team members before being sent since they’re emails that is going to be sent frequently to people and the message doesn’t change from person to person (so it makes sense to give the extra time and effort to crafting them). The third thing to take into account is whether or not the emails have been opened, and if they have been there’s no need for repetition, if anything more information should be given in the initial notification including the whole timeline rather than sending many messages so that the buyer has more confidence and understanding of the projected timeline and when any concerns should be raised. Finally, more attention can be easily given to the timeline of the messages being sent, especially the message about activating the card, which should only have been sent after the estimated time of delivery plus adding in some extra days for any delivery issues like hurricanes or being on vacation.

Doing one or preferably all of these things would have alleviated a lot of stress and concern on my part, especially for something that is a fairly predictable, anticipated and easy process. It certainly was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had with the payment aspect of business. Next week we’ll talk about one of the things I mentioned here, updating recurring orders or donations, and I’ll give you some feedback and suggestions based on what I’ve experienced recently.

What are your thoughts on making time-sensitive communications easier and clearer?

Comfortable Changes

How do you handle those conversations with your partner when they want to talk about things they want or feel are lacking in your relationship? I had a conversation with someone about this during the past week and it got me thinking about how we can overcome the challenges we personally may face if we’re asked by our partner to make a change or do something different.

While the first emotion you may feel is gratitude that your partner is finally sharing their concerns, fears or desires, the emotions that may closely follow are guilt, fear, and panic. It’s never easy to realize that you’ve been failing in some way on something or not being everything your partner needs. But that’s not necessarily what the conversation means, because it may not be about you failing to do something, but about something new your partner wants or needs or wants to try. If you’re in a healthy relationship, it should be an opening conversation, a beginning of a discussion, not a requirement or hard line.

Change and growth are natural parts of a healthy relationship. So what it you do feel overwhelmed by the request or the conversation? Instead of trying to conquer the mountain in one jump, pick something that’s easier for you to work up the courage or confidence to get to that point, or at least try to get to that point. Showing that you’re trying will mean a lot to them and may give them the immediate positive reinforcement they need to regain their confidence in your relationship and encourage you and work with you on trying to incorporate their requests or feedback into your relationship. It will also give you the courage and strength to keep going and working on their requests or feedback.

For example let’s say they are bored with what you all typically have for food options in the house and everyone needs to eat healthier, but you don’t really like fruits or vegetables. So don’t dive into trying the ones you know you don’t like, start with incorporating more of the ones you do like into your diets and pantry. Let’s say they want to do more and get in shape. Instead of trying to be ironman or woman, start with walking or swimming or whatever fitness activity you are OK with.

That first step may be a little intimidating, but it’s way less challenging than trying to go all the way from day 1. What tips do you have for working through conversations with your partner?

Labor Day Reflections

Monday here in the US is Labor Day. It’s the day that we honor and remember all the contributions that the American people have made for and towards the economy and success of our country. I think it’s important to still celebrate this day because even though we’ve made some really great strides in making work accessible and safer for all, there are still some serious issues in the work place today.

When you look at the statistics about how many people are employed vs. unemployed, they don’t take into account how many people are miserable in the job they have. It doesn’t register how many people dread going to work the next day. It doesn’t consider how many people feel threatened, frustrated or ignored by their bosses and superiors. It doesn’t take into account the number of workers who have no clue what they’re doing or why they do what they’re doing. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of improvement still needed in many workplaces.

The first step to improvement is for the leadership to remember that they’re working with people, not magicians. Most staff members won’t read minds, can’t decipher gibberish, and can only do what you’ve told them to do. So when they’re not doing what you need them to do, aren’t truly helping customers, aren’t being as productive as you want them to be or keep doing things wrong, take a step back. First look at what you’ve told them to do (do your messages/requests/instructions even make sense?  Are they detailed and specific enough?). Second, look at how you’ve trained them and if you’re continuing to give them education to improve their skills. Third look at the resources available to them (can they do the job you’re asking them to do, let alone do well?).

Once sufficient and clear communication, expectations and resources have been established, only then can things improve dramatically for both workers and businesses. Are you the reason your employees are miserable and unproductive? What can you do to be the reason that you’ve got employees who look forward to coming into work, share about job openings with your business, and are happy and capable of fully supporting your customers?

Proactive Business Communications

On Monday I shared some thoughts about dealing with people who are poor communicators. While you can’t fix them (unless they ask you for help), there is something you can do if you’re the poor communicator. Unfortunately, one of the worst communicators are businesses. It’s really a shame with the advances in technology that make it so easy for anyone to create even a simple website, or have an email address to answer questions.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to communication in business is a lack thereof. It’s not really about an inability to communicate what you’re all about (but that is an issue sometimes), it’s more of an issue of not answering questions potential customers have, not speaking to them in a way they understand or making them work harder than they should to answer the simplest of questions.

If as a business you think you’re answering all of a potential customer’s questions with your marketing material, then it’s time for an outside review with someone who’s not familiar with your company at all, preferably several someones. Having success coaches, business consultants and regular people in your target market review your marketing can give you an eye-opening reveal as to whether or not you’re really setting yourself up for success.

One of the biggest challenges is getting past the ‘everyone knows that’ stage to the ‘let’s be proactive and educate our customers and show them we’re a customer service savvy organization.’ Unless you’re one of the world-wide fast food chains, world-wide beverage companies, or big box retailers that are in multiple countries, it’s not safe to assume that things are “well-known” about you, your company and/or what you’re offering. The cost of adding a few lines to a web page, answering a few emails or making a few social media posts is so incredibly negligible that it’s mind blowing that so few companies are willing to take that step.

One of the other questions that’s often raised is about being worried about revealing all of the trade secrets, which I understand. But if you don’t include enough information you won’t get people past that first step. I don’t have a problem with a little mystery, but too much isn’t healthy for businesses. Think about it this way: you probably played games like Old Maid, Clue and Monopoly as a kid (and maybe you still play now). Each of those games has some very predictable and communicable aspects, and yet the fact is that you never know who the old maid is, who the killer is or who will end up with the most money or houses. Those mysteries are OK to let stand, the mystery of what the game is all about and the key aspects (i.e. the cards, the board, the players etc.) have to be revealed in order for people to not only play, but to purchase the game in the first place.

I understand that some businesses struggle to manage the customer load they have now, but chances are really good that they/you still want more customers. If that’s the case, being proactive about communicating is one of the simplest and easiest things you can do.

Does your business communicate proactively or are you struggling to keep up?

Dealing with Poor Communicators

Anyone who has achieved a level of success, whether someone in a career job, in a relationship, in education or as a business owner, has dealt with any number of challenges in their journey to get there. One of those challenges has to do with communication.  We’ve talked before about how essential communication is and that everyone screws up on communicating from time to time.  Communication is also something that we are (or should be) learning and working on from the day we’re born to the day we die.

The communication challenge that I want to talk about today is dealing with people who are poor communicators. These are people who refuse to justify their thoughts, just speak from the hip and never consider what they’re spewing out of their mouth, or talk about you behind your back (i.e. post a negative review about you/your service/your company without even trying to resolve it, complain to a supervisor and don’t try to discuss it with you etc.).

The first step to success in these situations is something that everyone can do whether they’re skilled at communication or not, is the practice of patience.  The second is something we’ve talked about in the past, and it’s the skill of asking questions.  When you put even just these 2 skills together, you’ve got the ability to work through many challenging communications.  Add to that some solid communication skills and you’ve got a better chance at either navigating the challenge, or dealing with the aftermath and coming out less destroyed than you might.

Some people are just happy to vent and really don’t care if things get resolved.  Some people just like to find problems and issues and again, don’t care about a resolution.  Fortunately I’ve found that both of those types of people are in the minority, and that given the chance most people do want to resolve things and are open to talking things through.

I’m not a communications expert yet, I’ve got lots to learn.  But with each new conversation I have, blog post I read, and video I watch I’m being exposed to lessons that I can learn from and apply to my life and conversations in the future. What have you been learning in your conversations lately?

The Business of Relationships

Today I thought we’d talk about something that some businesses are interested in but others haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet: creating a better relationship with your customers. Some businesses are happy to just get a customer, and have designed their business to be a limited number of transactions between them and a specific customer, maybe even as few as one, or a couple with quite a few years between. That’s OK, it certainly works for some businesses, and often the case is that those products or services cost more as a result. However, in most cases businesses want to have more than one sale with a customer, and statistically it’s cheaper to sell again to one customer than to gain a new one. So let’s talk about things that impact building a relationship with a customer.

Regular communications are the first place to start. Sometimes this is necessary to gain a customer in the first place, but it’s also key to developing a relationship with a customer and getting them to come back for more sales in the future. There are several options to how you can do this, from local events to social media to an email newsletter to a print newsletter to a blog. Once you’ve chosen the method of communicating you have to consistently follow through, whether it’s daily/weekly social media posts, weekly blog/newsletters or monthly events, or whatever schedule you choose to follow that is consistent and frequent enough to keep you top-of-mind, but not too frequently that it’s overwhelming or annoying.

The other thing to consider about building a relationship is about customer experience. If customers know they only have to deal with something once they’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect website, pushy marketing, and even possibly some rudeness or poor customer service. However, if you want to build a relationship with a customer, the website should be up to date and have colors that are easy for people to view without being overwhelming, customer service should be responsive to all questions or queries, and care should be taken to both creating products and marketing materials so there aren’t obvious spelling or grammar issues, outdated information or so little information they have no idea what’s going on.

What about your business? Are you working on building a relationship with your customers or just working to get the sale?

Speaking the Language of Success

Last week I heard about another poor decision and rant that someone made with regards to someone’s culture and/or language.  While it’s easy to say, and for some of us believe, that we should all work together and there aren’t any differences between cultures, races and sexes, there is a rather large challenge that isn’t always possible for businesses to conquer.

It’s the challenge of language.

You’ve probably been to some websites that are in a language that you don’t speak.  You’ve also probably been to some websites that offer on-site translation options so that it’s easy to switch to any number of languages and have the site translate itself into a decent representation of what’s on the original site.  Of course you can always use Google or the Chrome option to translate a page or site for you but they’re not as reliable.  As great as these options are and as smart as it is to offer a properly translated page to your potential customers, that only solves one of the two challenges when it comes to language.

The other side of the language challenge is from our end, the end of the business owner or employees.  Using myself as an example, simply put I only speak English well.  I have very minimal Spanish and French language knowledge, and nothing else.  So while I could go ahead and have my website and other materials translated into other languages or offer on-site translation options, the simple fact is that since I offer only services and no physical products if a potential client doesn’t speak English and won’t get a translator, we’re not a good match and I probably can’t help them regardless of how much I would like to.

If you really want to grow a global business you’ve got a couple of choices because translating things back and forth between you and your customers works to an extent, but once you get to a certain level of service you really need to do better for your customers.  One option is to, hire team members who speak other languages.  A second option would be to learn those languages yourself.  A final option would be to create relationships with people around the world who offer similar services or products as you do but speak languages or work in cultures that you don’t and form affiliate relationships with them.

What are your tips for making things work when you don’t speak the same language as a customer?