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Rochambeau the front line

Freaknomics points us to the greatest fast food promotion in memory. Beat the cashier in a game of rock paper scissors and save a buck.

What I absolutely love about this idea, other than its obvious remarkability, is the way it humanizes the previously automatonized front line worker. Instead of making them invisible, it makes them part of the deal. "Tell your Starbucks barrista a really funny joke, get a free biscotti (knock knock jokes not valid in some states.)"

Why not do this with your accounts payable people? Or give the customer service people the ability to give a prize to the nicest person who calls in each day? What’s the worst that could happen–they might use a little judgment, might enjoy the day a bit more, might even start to care.

If you let them.

Pro bono

Lawyers do pro bono work fairly often. Some firms hire lawyers to do nothing but free legal work for those in need. Turns out that it’s not just an obligation, it also makes you a better lawyer.

Aaron needs your help doing the same thing with branding, design and marketing.

Just one post

A lot of people have blogs. But most people don’t.

I think you should. Even if you only have one post in you.

Having a blog is pretty daunting, especially if you don’t like blank paper and are the sort of person that hates falling behind. I can imagine that the idea of posting 50 or 300 times a year is a little bit nuts for many people.

But what if there’s just one thing you need to say, but you can say it clearly and well and in a way that hasn’t been said before? What if you’ve got one great blog post inside of you, and, even better, you’re willing to update that post as you learn more and gain more insight?

An entire post about a certain kind of fossil. Or the misuse of a certain word. Or about a key difference between two kinds of bluetooth…

Why not?

Bad customer service… by design

Most of us do customer service in one way or another. And most of us believe that customer service represents an investment and a commitment. The more you spend, the more you get. Companies that do lousy customer service are short-sighted or just plain cheap. So we say.

I don’t think it’s that simple, though.

Consider this screen shot. Possibly the single worst online customer service I have ever experienced. AT&T has online tech support (yay) in real time (super) that is totally and completely broken. Not because they’re not spending the money, but because the committee that designed it is a few cards short of a full deck.

This is a simultaneous chat room, which means that each person in the room sees everyone else’s questions getting answered (not useful.) Which means that it’s unthreaded, so it’s in no particular order (less useful). Worse, there’s a 10 minute wait time after you type in your question before it gets answered. And the reps spend a lot of time waiting for people to respond, and only answer one question at a time.

The result is a traffic jam that satisfies no one.

For less money, in less time, with less software hassle, they could have used any of a number of free or nearly free systems that would be fast, pleasant and efficient. You and I could fix this system in an afternoon.

Before we jump all over AT&T, here’s the real question: what’s broken about the architecture of your customer service? What could you change that would leverage the effort you’re already putting into it?

Trade show tactics

Megan and I just got back from eBay Live. Our goal as an exhibitor was to get the 10,000 attendees talking about Squidoo. And my guess is that your goal as a trade show exhibitor is to do the same thing (no, not to talk about Squidoo, to talk about you, of course).

Here’s what we did: we printed 600 t-shirts with a long, hand-written letter on the front, explaining how Squidoo helps eBayers. And we gave the shirt away to anyone willing to wear it. The incentive? Each day, Megan picked someone who was wearing the shirt and gave that person $9,000 worth of ads on Squidoo.

Within an hour, you saw orange t-shirts on the show floor. By the second day, every single t-shirt was taken and more than 5% of all the people there were wearing the shirts.

Total cost: $3,000. (plus the ads).

This obviously doesn’t work at every trade show. You need both an audience that’s into playful promotion and a suitable and appropriate prize to reward the t-shirt wearer. Since this was self-referential (Having people build Squidoo pages about you is a lot like getting them to wear a t-shirt about you) it was easy for us to do, but it occurs to me that there are much broader applications of this technique. Hey, it even worked for radio stations all the years I was growing up. Stations used to offer a cash prize if they found your car and you had the bumper sticker. And no, the station never did pick our car…

A gimmick? Of course. But a relevant one. The spreading of the idea was not just our tactic, it was the entire point. Too often, trade show exhibits seem focused on either getting rid of the people who stop by or getting their badge scanned. What a waste. The real win is to generate true buzz… people talking about you and what you do, not about your tactics. So, a magician in your booth might be fun, but if all I talk about is the magician, you’ve wasted your money.

PS The shirts were so popular that our booth was marauded. People took our sample shirts, they even took the shirt off the mannequin we brought. If you took a shirt you can part with, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to buy it from you!

[Speaking of spreading the word, here’s an SEO related interview you might enjoy. Plus a phoner I’ll be doing soon (actually, there’s two). And here’s a summer intern-type gig you might want to mention to a stranded teenager in your house.]


Most successful organizations are driven by something. Figuring that out isn’t always easy, and is often misunderstood:

MARKET DRIVEN: Lots of people claim this one, but few achieve it. Creating what the market wants. I’ll put JetBlue in this category.

MARKETING DRIVEN: Much more common. This involves creating what the marketing department wants. Like American Express.

FASHION DRIVEN: This involves changing the market to have it want what you just made. Armani, certainly, but also an art dealer at Basel.

FOUNDER DRIVEN: Idiosyncratic activity, usually by the person who’s name is on the door. I’d put Virgin in this category.

SKU DRIVEN: More titles = more success, even if it’s not true. Publishers live this model.

SUBSCRIPTION DRIVEN: How do we transform a stranger into someone who uses what we do, all the time. Intuit, certainly.

PAYCHECK DRIVEN: This is what happened to Home Depot under Bob Nardelli.

TECHNOLOGY DRIVEN: When you launch products because you can, not because they’re particularly useful. HP did this for a while.

LITIGATION DRIVEN: Lawyers with an open checkbook to bill for letters sent and actions brought. The RIAA, or any of a thousand law firms representing estates by sending out reams of mail.

COMMUNITY DRIVEN: Making decisions based on what’s best for the community you serve. Room to Read makes my list.

TROLL DRIVEN: Growth by enragement. Engage others, say annoying things that aren’t true and bask in the attention. No examples will be given, which is the best way to deal with trolls.

MONOPOLY DRIVEN: Create a system and a standard and charge increasing tolls to travel on your roads. iTunes.

EGO DRIVEN: Just be sure you spell my name right.

REVIEW DRIVEN: Don’t worry about the public. Worry about people with a pen. Broadway certainly qualifies.

IDEA DRIVEN: This includes the Segway.

PHILANTHROPICALLY DRIVEN: Paul Newman is well into giving away a few hundred million dollars so far.

Hat tip: George Meyfarth, who told me about ‘marketing driven’ in 1983. Been waiting this long to figure out the rest…

[I forgot:

SALES DRIVEN: In which the salesforce runs the operation. Car dealers.

ASSEMBLY LINE DRIVEN: Keep the line moving, at all costs. Detroit, alas.]

Buzz is an inside job

Tom shares a powerful story about where buzz begins: The Messaging Times :: Blog.

Letting off steam

Josh points us to: Clientcopia : Coping with stupid clients

So a client calls me on a Friday – 4PM.

CLIENT: I’m about to talk to the pharma client, I need a computer graphics budget for an interactive CD-ROM.

ME: Great, email me the project details, how many screens, client deadlines, etc.

CLIENT: Well, can’t you just give me a ballpark figure?

ME: A ballpark figure? But, I don’t know any of specs, nor any of the client info. Please send me what you have, I’ll look over it this weekend and I’ll have something for you first thing Monday morning.

CLIENT: Well, we need to send them something today, by 4:30PM. Can’t you just estimate it?

ME: Okay, $100,000.

CLIENT: $100,000! Why is it that much?

Misunderstanding Steve Jobs

In a small-minded riff on Steve, John Heilemann writes  (hat tip: paidContent.org):

“Less than two weeks from now, when the phone hits the streets, the consumerist pandemonium will likely be hysterical. Once again, Jobs may have fashioned a totemic object that will capture the culture–and cause rival CEOs to have coronary events. No one else in history has pulled of this kind of coup, as Jobs has, with four different products. The Apple II. The Mac. The iPod. The computer-animated feature film. Betting against a track record like that would be a dangerous wager. Especially when you know, deep down, that you want an iPhone. Bad..

…But Jobs has been wrong before. And if the iPhone proves a disappointment, his reputation will take a precipitous tumble: from unerring visionary to just another overreaching mogul. What’s at stake for Jobs, then, isn’t money or power–for no matter how the iPhone fares, he’ll still have both in abundance. What’s at stake is the thing that now must matter to him above all: the ending of his story.”

If you’ve never pushed the envelope of the accepted wisdom, it’s easy to misunderstand what drives Steve Jobs. I can see how someone living in a status quo world would ascribe familiar motivations to him, but it’s just not true. "The ending of his story"? Nonsense. Jobs doesn’t care about his legacy or making more money. He’s addicted to Rifting–he process of fixing problems, of leaping from one broken market to another. Why would he stop?

I wrote about this in Fast Company seven years ago, pre-iPod:

After the death of Walt Disney the man, something happened to Walt
Disney the company. You see, Walt Disney was a three-time rifter. He
was one of the few people who have successfully managed to find a rift
in the continuum of life, to bet everything on it, and to make a profit
by doing so. And he did it three times.

What’s a rift? It’s a big tear in the fabric of the rules that we
live by. It’s a fundamental change in the game, one that creates a
bunch of new losers — and a handful of new winners.

Most people who build important businesses build them on a rift,
usually one that they find by accident, and usually only once.
Sometimes, after they’ve succeeded once, they fool themselves into
thinking that they’re so gifted that everywhere they look, they can see
a rift. But Disney was different: He really was rift gifted. After all,
he did it three times.

[you can read the rest, here].

[Rifters don’t worry so much about being seen as "unerring visionaries". They just keep going.]

In the mail today

Avinash’s new book about web analytics. Someone in your organization should (must) read this. Maybe you?

The "sitting-on-the-floor-is-not-boring, anything-can-be-designed-better" inspirational critbuns.

And a good old-fashioned selling book. (See page 117).

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