Archive for the ‘customer service’ Category

Ray Kroc’s Grand Brand Plan

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

raykrocnw2On Friday, at the kind invitation of PR pro and educator extraordinaire Dr. Linda Hagan, I guest lectured a class of young artists at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. In fitting with the curriculum of business and marketing trends and practices, I advised the group on how best to go about creating their own brand.  A significant slice of what I covered is evident in the excellent new movie, “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton.  Because when it comes to brands – iconic brands – McDonald’s best-known owner Ray Kroc was a true visionary.

I began the CCS class by asking students, ‘What constitutes a brand?’ In response I heard, ‘A logo’ and ‘A slogan’ before another chimed in with, ‘What you stand for.’  All correct, I told them, when taken together.  Because, I further opined, a brand is the sum of all attributes of a particular company, product or service – it is how you answer your phones, how you treat your customers, referral sources and employees. It is how you differentiate yourself from your competition – not just in words but also by delivering upon a value proposition and brand promise.

Ray Kroc understood this as well as anyone ever.  While peddling milkshake mixers to drive-ins across the country in the 1950s, he stumbled upon a little single shingle establishment in San Bernardino, California where an amazing thing was happening: families were waiting in line (and not long) for delicious hamburgers and soft drinks that took minutes from order to delivery.  This was in stark contrast to the traditional drive-ins Kroc had experienced that were littered with trash, loud music and smoking teenagers in their hot rods. Food often took 30 minutes or more and orders were routinely wrong.  The alternative restaurant? The brainchild of the McDonalds brothers.

McDonald’s was the model of efficiency, consistency and wholesome family dining. They offered a unique brand value proposition and delivered upon it each and every time.  Kroc saw the vast opportunity to take this badly needed model across the country via franchising. He likened the golden arches to the church steeples and city hall flags he saw in every town he visited on his sales travels. These arches would add another icon to the skylines of each and every town in America, he predicted.  And once these restaurant chain stores opened in their respective markets, Kroc worked tirelessly to maintain brand standards in operations, food offerings and, most importantly, customer service.

A brand, I told the class, works best when it is honest, genuine and true to who you are.   As current students and future employees or entrepreneurs in the world of art and film, I offered, they needed to be true to who they were but also mindful that their brand must also keep in mind the audiences they want to reach.  After all, a brand cannot be successful, ultimately, if it doesn’t resonate and compel. It must also stay open to evolution.  In fact, McDonald’s has gone through decades of changes to meet evolving consumer tastes and priorities, as evidenced by their expanded menu options, dollar value meals and healthier fare.  Ray Kroc didn’t found McDonald’s but he certainly honed and developed its brand, building the restaurant into arguably the greatest fast-food chain ever.  And to millions starting in the Cold War era, Americana never tasted so good.

 

All I Want For Christmas Is More Clients (Friends) Like This

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

10bbafbf53a71d06491c64c34de0caf5-1There may be times throughout the year that Matt and I spend a little too much time pontificating on what should be happening in the world of business and communications as opposed to donating more space and thoughts to people and best practices we should be celebrating.  I know we strive to provide a healthy balance. Consider this is one of those times.

Without getting too sentimental, year-end is for many a time of reflection with a scrutinizing look back and a hopeful look ahead.  It is also a time to appreciate stations in life and work and people who have been instrumental in getting you there. Today restored my faith in the latter. A client with whom our firm has enjoyed a mutually beneficial 20-years of collaborations today informed me that they were amenable to flexibility on a project budget gone astray; in other words, they expressed a willingness to pay for costs incurred over and above a previously agreed upon budget.  There were a range of factors at work here. They could have said no but after thoughtful discussion, they didn’t.

A year ago, that same client, after a once again transparent and honest dialogue, allowed our firm to begin working simultaneously with one of their competitors. It is unheard of in our industry.  It was as selfless an act on their part that I have ever experienced in my 30+ years in business (with today coming a close second).  It also came at a dark time in my personal life that this client talked me through over dinner.   I am not too “manly” to admit that I was literally moved to tears. This is not just a valued client.  This is a friend.

They say relationships are all-important and they are.  But, as Matt and I discussed today’s events, he suggested it was also something more – a client who operates in-step with our values; one who lives and breathes integrity and mutual respect with its clients, its business partners and its employees.  Such a tone is set at the top and that dynamic is definitely in play here.  It is a modus operandi all too rare but one to be emulated, celebrated and inspired by.  Perhaps a New Year’s resolution for those not already there.

 

 

Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.

Here’s How Not To Fire Your PR Firm

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

unnamedThere are two kinds of owners of PR firms. One will admit that the firm has been fired by a client. The other is lying.

When you spend all day trying to build and strengthen relationships, you don’t want to think about when and how they will someday, somehow, inevitably end. But when they do, it’s hard not to let the postmortem occupy your thoughts, especially when a longtime client does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you ever have to fire your firm.

Recently, a 12-year client ended a relationship with us in a way we did not expect or deserve. This was a client that, once legally able, joined us after a multi-year track record with us at our previous firm. Much of our work with this client focused on serving as direct communications counsel to the CEO. This client, because of the strength of our relationship and a mutual feeling of trust, donated a portion of our professional time to the community where it is headquartered to help raise awareness for the business and living opportunities there. This is a client that also entrusted us to work closely with its Board of Directors on some of its most sensitive matters.

At no point in the 12 years of working together did anyone working for this client provide any constructive feedback about our performance. We never heard “We’d like you to do this differently” or “We’d like more of that instead.” At no point was any dissatisfaction about work product communicated whatsoever. When we would suggest new ideas, we were often met by budget concerns, but that didn’t deter us from trying to add as much value as the client would allow us to provide.

In fact, after our contract was terminated and we were informed there would be a search process, we were told that it was because “we’re examining all of our outside contracts.” It was reassuring when we were hired soon after that for project work, which yielded results. Then, when an RFP was issued and I called the CEO asking if there is a change mandate and, if so, should we even take the time to complete the process, I was strongly encouraged to submit a proposal. So, after 12 years of working together, I gathered our team, critically evaluated our performance and re-pitched the business in a written proposal.

We didn’t even get an interview.

A few weeks later, I received a voicemail from the in-house marketing person. It said that they had hired another firm, one from a city even farther away from the client than where we are located. It said that they were particularly impressed by that firm’s research capabilities. “Research?” I thought. “Research?” There was nothing in the RFP about research. 12 years of working together and the need for research never even came up in conversation. We have a terrific relationship with an outstanding market research company with particular experience in this client’s sector. If only they had asked we could have told them, but, for some reason, they didn’t even want to know.

12 years was reduced to a voicemail. Well, that and an email “making sure” I got the voicemail.

I don’t know what happened on the client’s end of this story. I likely never will. Probably, they grew dissatisfied with our work, but didn’t have the guts to tell us. Why? Was I going to yell at them? Argue? Swear? Cry? Sue? How bad would it have been?

Or maybe they just thought the grass would be greener someplace else. So why couldn’t we talk about it? What’s so scary about a tough conversation?

As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. But after a long, successful relationship, do it from the top and don’t do it with a voicemail. Show some class and some stones. Have a real conversation, answer questions, clear the air and then, both sides can move on.

Which Car Dealership Is Your Business Like?

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

dollar_bill_with_wings_0521-1101-2914-0547_SMUSometimes an old adage bears repeating, including one that appears framed on the walls of so many businesses.

“If you don’t take care of your customer, somebody else will.”

This played out in my life as a consumer and it’s a story that’s important to keep front of mind, especially because the business that has now lost me as a customer, like so many, boasts on its website that “It is our goal to provide you with an excellent purchase and ownership experience.”

The subject here is car repair, one that can get the blood pressure rising. The other evening, an indicator light went on showing a problem with an airbag in my wife’s car. As part of the horse trading that is figuring out which spouse will handle which household projects, I took this one. I immediately called the dealership where we have now leased two vehicles. The service department “scheduler” had trouble answering my questions about bringing the car around my work schedule, which, thankfully doesn’t allow much time to sit in a dealership waiting room. I was told that while they are open Saturdays, they only do this type of work Monday through Friday. When I asked how long it would take if I brought it in at their next appointment, two days away, she dumped me into someone else’s voicemail. When I called back, all I got was voicemail. So I called again, asked for the owner (who claims in advertising that his family treats customers like family). I left a message, saying that the service has not met my expectations, and have yet to hear back.

The next morning, I called a second dealership. I was told it would take several business days to get an appointment. When I asked if I would have to spend hours waiting, I was told they would drive me to Enterprise so I could rent a car, at my own expense. No thank you.

I called a third dealership and the woman who answered the phone listened to my story. She encouraged me to come in the next morning, talk to the “advisors” working and felt optimistic that they could work me in for what is probably relatively minor.

I took her up on that, found someone willing to listen, who offered to squeeze me in but said he couldn’t guarantee that they would be able to look at it that day. Just in case, he arranged for me to have a complimentary loaner car in case it took more time than expected. I drove the loaner to the office where, a few hours later, I got a call that the car was ready, nothing major was wrong and I had until 6 p.m. to return the loaner and get the car. That is an excellent experience.

In this case, dealership one clearly didn’t care about keeping me as a customer. Dealership two didn’t care about gaining me as a customer. Dealership three figured out a way to say “yes.” Should we choose this make of vehicle when the lease is up in less than a year, that is where we will be headed.

The lesson to all of us in business is simple. Be dealership three at every opportunity.

PR Tantrum A Symptom Of Bigger Problem

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

tantrumEvery year, working PR at Michigan’s one-of-a-kind Mackinac Policy Conference, I feel like I walk away learning something. This year, it’s about the PR business, more so than any of the topics discussed on stage. It hit me on the last day of the Conference, based on what I saw first-hand and what I read as I was leaving Mackinac Island.

First, I witnessed a PR professional pitching a fit, the likes of which I had never witnessed, but had heard about from journalists. I saw a representative of an elected government official in full tantrum mode. After verifying this with one of the journalists present, I can confirm that it started when TV news video journalists slightly moved the set-up for a press conference because under the setup the PR person wanted, the lighting would have been poor.

Even though a move toward proper lighting would benefit everyone involved, this PR person didn’t like it one bit. When I arrived, this individual was verbally tearing into the journalists because it wasn’t set up as she envisioned. One of the journalists there to witness the entire display of toddler emotion described it as “immature” and “inconsiderate.” Just after the tirade ended, the government official showed up and the news conference happened in the setup that the journalists wanted. Everything worked well and looked good, in my estimation. But her behavior represented the antitheses of how Tanner Friedman interacts with the media.

Just a few minutes later, I read versions of this story sent to me by friends and watched the accompanying video of how deposed Baylor University President Kenneth Starr’s PR advisor, after not revealing her true identity to a news crew, interrupted an interview to provide on-scene scripting, including a changed answer to a question. What transpired was unethical. It was deplorable and, unfortunately, ill-represents what we do for a living. It shows what happens when a bad client pairs with a unscrupulous excuse for a professional.

These two incidents represent a bigger problem in today’s Public Relations business, particularly on the still-vital media relations side of the industry. Too many in it have too little respect for the job of professional journalists. Too many actually hold disdain for the media, failing to embrace the concept that journalists are their customers also.

If you think you can “control the media,” you should take control of your career and find another way to make a living. If you harbor a lack of respect for journalists, you should do yourself and them a favor, and do something else other than pretend to do media relations. If you think “protecting” the powerful person you work for means trampling over journalists, you are simply doing it wrong. This career path will work for you and all of those you serve if you at least respect the newsgathering process, but it will be best for you if you downright enjoy it.

And what of the CEO, elected official, board chair or, worse yet, PR firm owner who condones this behavior? The simple analysis is that it’s a sign of someone in real trouble.

Apple: The Devil’s in the Updates

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

apple-devilAs Apple and the FBI tussle over access to information vs. right to privacy on behalf of the tech giant’s customers, I am struck due to recent circumstance by Apple’s often disregard for customer service and preferences. I’m all about: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Apple on the other hand, seems to adhere to the axiom: if it ain’t broke, change it.  Allow me to provide an example.

I love music. I also love to workout. And, the former is, for me, the perfect complement to the latter.  I download songs to my MacBook Air computer and, from there, to my iPhone.  In the past, I have always been able to manage my music much like a radio station.  When I was a music director back in the day, I chose what songs the radio station played and didn’t play, including when to add a song and when to take one or more out of rotation (resting them). Similarly, I have always been able to go to “My Music” on the laptop and check the boxes of the songs I want to synch and then shuffle through on my iPhone (and automatically past those I want to “rest”).

As of this writing, I cannot do this.  I don’t know what the technical problem is exactly – and I am not alone.  My crack IT man can’t figure it out.  Hours spent on the phone with Apple tech advisors and their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors have similarly been unable to bear fruit.  And so I scroll and scroll through my entire playlist, half of which are comprised of songs I currently don’t want to hear right now.

What I do know is that Apple has become, proverbially, “too hip for the room.” New  operating programs and upgrades are often necessary to ensure entire systems run most smoothly, I get that.  But continually changing browsers and tools that many of us would prefer to preserve can be nothing but greed (and perhaps Apple programmer boredom).  A nudge to purchase that new phone or software package.  In my case, I’m convinced this about luring me to Apple Music. I’m not biting.

All in all, it is very disappointing and, I feel unnecessary. Apple prides itself on being tech intuitive but has strayed (why do you think there is such a proliferation of ‘do it yourself’ YouTube help videos posted by other tech savvy laypeople)?  Cool gadgetry may keep your programmers and technophiles frothing at the mouth, Apple, but don’t forget the majority of your customers – and true customer service.

The 12 Days of Business: Holiday Hopes for 2016

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

partridge_in_a_pear_tree_s1With apologies to those who observe Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or variations, a few hopes for the holiday season and beyond – for business and life – to the tune of a Christmas classic:

 

On the first day of Business

I’d really like to see

a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the second day of Business

I’d really like to see

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the third day of Business

I’d really like to see

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fourth day of Business

I’d really like to see

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the fifth day of Business

I’d really like to see

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the sixth day of Business

I’d really like to see

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the seventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eight day of Business

I’d really like to see

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more to charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the ninth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the tenth day of Business

I’d really like to see

Ten commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the eleventh day of Business

I’d really like to see

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued

and a fulfilling year for you and me

 

On the twelfth day of Business

I’d really like to see

12 months of health and prosperity

11 and louder mindshare

10 commandment tenets respected

Nein (No) not in our lexicon

Figure 8s around competitors

7 year itches examined

6 pence and more for charity

5 year plans considered

4 sight and vision prevailing

3 weeks vacation aimed for

2 way communication valued…

…and a fulfilling year for you and me.

 

Your Website Is Probably More Responsive Than You Are

Monday, October 19th, 2015

Unknown-1When I return a phone call, I’m receiving a salutation more often these days that I feel like I never heard a decade ago. Immediately, it’s “Thank You for calling me back.”

That’s because a returned phone call, just like an answered email, is becoming more and more of a rarity. I’m not talking about unsolicited sales phone calls or email. You can be in a professional relationship with someone and it can take days to get a response. We’re even starting to build time into projects for clients that includes follow-up, with them, the people who are paying us for our time. And this goes for “instant” platforms too. As I write, I’m waiting almost four hours to a response to a quick question sent via text.

Our business culture is less responsive than ever. The irony is, according to some significant professional service market research shown to me by a client, the top reason why a company hires a professional services firm is expertise in a particular field, followed by “responsiveness.” We have worked with multiple client firms who boast that their commitment to responsiveness is their key competitive point of difference. When you think about it, that’s pathetic. Something that should be a given is now a differentiator. Also, it’s frustrating that customers want their firms to be responsive to their needs, while too often failing to respond to the communication needed to fulfill those priorities.

Every business day, I get about 200 emails that require a response. They all deserve a response that day, even late at night if it’s a day of meetings and events, with driving in between. Every business day, I get about a half-dozen phone calls that require being returned. They all deserved to be returned within 24 hours, if at all possible. This is the hard way. We believe it’s the right way.

I know you’re “busy.” We all feel that way. Just about every business is “leaner” than ever. We are all doing jobs that used to be done by two or more people. We are all bombarded by interruptions when we’re not in meetings (that are too long). We’re eating lunch at our desks just to get the work done. But we have email at our fingertips and a phone in our hands virtually at all times. There’s just no excuse. The fundamental ingredient in every successful relationship has not changed since the days of secretaries and “while you were out” slips. That’s respect.

Why Dave Dombrowski Is A PR All-Star

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

imagesThis isn’t another online effort to try to guess as to why Dave Dombrowski is no longer the President, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers. But the fact that the “how” of that move by the team’s owner is getting so much attention is yet another example of why, especially in this era of analysis, PR matters.

Rather, this is an effort to explain why Dombrowski should have a spot on your PR All-Star team. It’s not because of his outstanding media relationships. In fact, many sports journalists have described him as guarded or even aloof. It’s because he is the master of something, in our extensive experience in training executives to talk to the media, that is often the toughest fundamental of all. He skillfully uses the media as a conduit to his audience.

Dombrowski only has talked to the media sparingly in recent years. He seems to know that when he talks, his words most certainly will be reported, if not over magnified a la Alan Greenspan, by baseball writers and broadcasters over multiple platforms. He knows his words will reach their intended audiences relatively unfiltered because of the relative rarity of his quotes. During the Winter Meetings and other portions of “free agency season,” Dombrowki’s audience is agents the represent the players. He talks about his plans, or lack thereof, to give himself maximum leverage. During the trading season, his audience is other general managers. His carefully chosen words are designed to tilt possible trading partners in his direction. Today, when he wisely returned journalists’ calls and participated in one-on-one interviews, rather than a spectacle press conference, his audience was owners who may think about hiring him. He was careful not to disparage the Tigers and left himself wide open for consideration.

We explain to clients that the purpose of PR is to use communications to support your business objectives. There is nobody in sports who seems to naturally understand and capitalize on that than Dave Dombrowski. Other business executives should take note of how this professional uses that quality to stay on the top of his game.