Back on Tour in 2015

As many of you know, I took a new full-time position with Ultimate Medical Academy earlier this year. On top of the new job (which required relocating my tribe from the DC Metro to Tampa, FL), being a dad for a toddler required a brief hiatus from the speakers circuit. I’m pleased to announce that I’m back on tour in 2015 with the first two stops announced:

In Las Vegas, I’ll be hosting a two-hour workshop on engagement and listening strategies. I will also be discussing my “trademark” approach to social media – LAETER”. Here are the details:

Your customers are talking about you on the internet whether or not you’re listening. A few negative comments can cause your reputation and sales to plummet; while a happy customer can evangelize time and time again. This hands-on session will provide attendees with social listening strategies that can keep their team and their C-level executives on the forefront of what’s being said about their brand (and competitors) – and how to plan a proactive rather than reactive approach.

Takeaways include:

  • Tips and tools for listening (and what to listen for)
  • Using the “LAETER” approach (listen, acknowledge, empathize, triage, escalate and resolve)
  • When not to respond and how to address trolls
  • Adding value to your business
  • Educating employees on the importance of corporate reputation on social media

For Chicago, I’ll be giving a 45-minute presentation on branding via social media:

Should you argue with your customers on Facebook? How do you draw the line between defending your business and antagonizing a troll? Your customers are talking about you on the internet whether or not you’re listening. A few negative comments can cause your reputation and sales to plummet; while a happy customer can evangelize time and time again. But not all negative comments can spell trouble. Learn how to engage unhappy customers and turn them into brand evangelists. It works and we’ll show you how. We’ll also help you spot potential land mines so that you don’t make things worse. It’s an art as much as it is a science.

Takeaways include:

  • Using the “LAETER” approach (listen, acknowledge, empathize, triage, escalate and resolve)
  • When not to respond and how to address trolls
  • How to fight back and when to throw in the towel

Defending your turf on social media

Social mediaTypically when I speak at conferences on the topic of social media, it’s not long before someone invariably asks the question,

“Should I respond to a negative review/comment on Facebook page?”

The answer is certainly not a simple one – in fact, I’ve spent an entire session speaking on the very topic. So a brief opine on the page here will not necessarily do this topic justice. What I will offer up instead is a framework for evaluating the basic tenants for making a well-informed decision.

  • Easy stuff:
    • Did you screw up? Let’s face it, sometimes your customers have to call you out. If so, cop to it, acknowledge every so humble, vow to correct it, and move on. Don’t make a big deal about it (unless it is a big deal!) If you are a good business, you can take constructive criticism and your customers will love you for it.
    • Is the person factually wrong? I had someone recently get all dramatic that my organization was supporting a political party because they were naive enough to associate a political sign on the property of the office space we rent with our business. They never thought it might be placed by another tenant… and, their post went on dramatically (and made many ridiculous comments) about what our business stands for, just by judging a few people who were coming and going from our building). In this case, we were quick to calmly point out that our business didn’t place those signs (explaining that the space is shared). We also went on to explain that we have many programs and policies in place that contradict the assumptions the poster was making (and provided examples). Interestingly enough, the poster deleted their comment pretty quickly. Another win for us.
  • Harder stuff:
    • Is the person trying to pick a fight?
    • Is the person complaining and not making any sense?
    • Is the person unwilling to be helped?

For the hard stuff, you need to understand that social media is often a game of chess. The better players anticipate the various reactions the opponent will have to your move. So if you reply to a social media “hater”, you need to anticipate and prepare for all the various possible replies. Using this mentality, chart the probability that the person is simply going to argue with you further. Is that a good outcome? Drawing more attention? Probably not. Engage if you genuinely believe the outcry is for help – not hurt. But tread carefully. You can always be empathetic.

The empathetic approach:

  • Sorry you’re annoyed
  • We want to help
  • We want to understand
  • Do you want us to help?
  • DM us your issue and we’ll help offline
  • Or, indicate that you have contacted them offline

When engaging a hater online, and you reach a resolution offline – but the hater doesn’t update or remove their post… it’s okay to ask them to do so. Or, simply reply back to their post and say, “I’m glad we were able to resolve the issue for you. Let us know if we can help further.”

Just remember, you don’t have to reply to every post. And sometimes your customers will come to your defense. But make sure they take it easy. Loyal brand advocates can be a lethal army. We’ll talk about that later.

Why public utility companies need to have media relations staff

It doesn’t matter if you are a public company, private company, non-profit or somewhere in-between; one thing is for certain – your customers are everything to your business. Now, one could say in the case of a public utility, since they have a monopoly, they don’t really need to care about their customers. And you might be right, which is why most public utility companies are still in business despite generally having satisfaction ratings that mirror the airlines and wireless companies.

Yet, what if I told you there was a benefit to having good customer service?

If your customers loved you… because…

  • You answered the phone quickly, and at all hours…
  • You replied to email in less than 24 hours…
  • You offered live chat…
  • You were empathetic, caring and good listeners when it comes to your customer’s lives and challenges
  • You participated in the community…
    • through events…
    • charities…
    • public education…
  • You cut people a break once in a while

So, if you did all this, wouldn’t your customers love you? Wouldn’t your image be sublime? When a public utility staff member says where they work, they’d be greeted with a smile rather than vitriol?

Still think it won’t get you anywhere?

What if I told you that having a strong brand as a public utility would probably go pretty far?

  • Enable you to sell/justify rate hikes (wouldn’t we all pay 1c more per gallon of water if service was superb when we needed it?
  • Enable your locality to pass better legislation because people respect you…
  • Get reelected?
  • Raise taxes?

Now, thanks to the goofs that run Pasco County Florida’s water utility, we’ve learned a good lesson here. Recently a customer of their’s contacted them when they received a bill for more than $3,000 (600,000 gallons of water), despite normally having a water bill of around $100. It seemed odd, so they did what anyone would do – they called the utility company to see what the issue was. But Pasco said the bill was correct and the customer would have to pay it. Pasco suggested to the customer to check their plumbing for leaks. So, the residents paid the county $190 to check the meter and the county declared the meter was fine. The county said they could follow a payment plan.

Gee thanks. Pay $3,000 and by the way, you’ll probably owe us twice that next month, because that was just a partial bill for 19 days.

So the residents contacted Tampa News Channel 8 (a local NBC affiliate). I would have contacted an attorney myself, but hey, that’s me. The good people at News Channel 8 hired a plumber for an independent test. He determined that it was physically impossible for that much water to even pass through the pipes in that amount of time. And if by chance he was wrong, where the hell did all the water go? It surely would have flooded the house or the street and be noticed.

So the news channel contacted the utility and the utility would not comment. They contacted the county, and a county spokesperson, without really know what the hell he was talking about said if a faucet was left on, it’s possible 23 gallons of water an hour could have come out. But the bill shows 1,000+ gallons per hour over certain periods. He later called back and said he meant 23 gallons a minute. Here’s the real rub, the couple wasn’t occupying the property, and the water usage is now back to normal.  Here’s were customer service and media relations come into play. A better response would have been,

“We agree that the bill is unusually high. There are a number of things that could result in a bill like this, so we are working with the customer to investigate whether it was an error in our billing system, our meters, or if in fact, the homeowner has a plumbing issue that needs remediation. We hope that together, we’ll be able to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”

How hard would that have been? How hard would it be to help this customer? Would a little empathy and assistance gone a long way? Yes. Now, many of the 4 million plus residents of the Tampa Bay region think negatively of Pasco County and it’s public utilities commission. That could have been avoided very easily.

Some times people are just jackasses. I’m not why people think its better to be a jackass than helpful and compassionate. One might say it’s easier to be a jackass, but I don’t buy that argument.

Oh, and by the way, all of Tampa Bay’s utility companies are this incompetent. This is not new. Maybe I’ll write about how Tampa Electric cut my power because I hadn’t paid a $700 deposit, even though I provided physical evidence I had.

Sometimes I feel like Rick Moranis in Space Balls… I’m surround by assholes. At least now I know why people want to privatize utilities.

UPDATE 10-1-2014: I just learned that Pasco County’s inspector general is now investigating the matter further… because of numerous complaints received across the county. Sounds like this is just the beginning of a big PR mess.


Email etiquette tips for the office

Good emailing requires proper etiquette.

Don’t evoke anger with unnecessary emails.

How do you handle the following scenarios?

  1. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you just started a project that you have a question about, what do you do? Do you craft that quick email message and hit send, knowing that it will sit in your co-worker’s inbox while they are out? Or do you wait until they return?
  2. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have some general information/update about something they are interested, do you forward?
  3. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have an emergency question, do you send them an email?

At my place of work, these are all scenarios we deal with regularly as members of a large team that relies heavily upon email to communicate. But how we handle each of the above can set the tone for our relationships and respect for one another.

In our example (1) above, if the co-worker is the only one who can answer your question, why bother sending the message if it will just sit in the in-box? Respect your fellow team member, and wait to send the message. Simply draft it up, hit save, and hang on to it. You may also find that while they are out, you were able to answer the question by asking someone else, or figuring it out on your own – thus never needing to send the message in the first place. Learn to be resourceful. By sending someone an email (that isn’t too important), while you know they are out, it’s saying to that person that you really don’t care they are on vacation. It also makes it difficult for your co-worker to check their email while they are out, because they have too many messages and don’t know if there are any that are important.

But what about example (2)… your message isn’t important… so don’t send it. Wait. You can craft a message that says, “I wanted to wait to send this to you until you returned, so as to not bother you while you are out.” A message like that goes a long way to earning the mutual respect of your teammate.

But it’s an emergency! Example (3) may be the rare exception… so ask yourself this, “is it such an emergency that it warrants a phone call or text message?” If that’s the case, then it may be suitable for you to send the message after all… but in reality, if it is a true emergency, it may be time to pick up the phone and call your co-worker who’s drinking Peña Coladas on a sandy beach somewhere. Be careful, as you’re crossing into difficult territory, so phrase your inquiry with caution and apologize for the interruption.

Your co-workers earned this time off, just as you did. If they are out sick, don’t bother them unless they are simply working remote to quarantine themselves… after all, they are sick and need to recover.

But above all, you need to KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. By this, I mean that if you are working with someone who genuinely wants to be included on every last thread and expects to be included, even while they are out – then forget about the above – and honor their wishes…

Happy emailing… or not emailing… chose carefully.

Stop using exclamation points (please)

Exclamation points.

Marketers use a lot of exclamation points.

As the head of marketing for a large organization, I have to edit a lot of copy. Press releases, collateral, web pages, blog posts, print ads, emails and so on… In fact, most marketers have to write copy as part of their role. But most marketers are pretty bad at it. I previously discussed Mark Twain’s view on brevity and why your marketing copy probably stinks.

However, just yesterday, a small “pocket reference guide” made it’s why to my inbox for review. The guide, meant to be a quick reference tool for students to identify who to contact in each department, included descriptions of departments and some FAQs. Fairly benign content, in my opinion. There was about four pages of copy. And it was a quick and easy edit.

I found that the copy was a collection of small paragraphs most likely written by multiple individuals, so it took a little finesse to achieve a unified tone and style throughout the piece. What amazed me the most was that nearly every passage used exclamation points.

Over the course of four pages, I found 23 —- TWENTY THREE —- exclamation points.

Needless to say, by the time I completed my edits, we were down to two – one in the title and one in the initial welcome section.

Then it occurred to me, no one knows how to use an exclamation point. Not marketers for sure, but also few people in academics (save for your English major).

An eloquent marketer should be proficient at devising creative ways for emphasizing importance and excitement without adding a superfluous amount of exclamation points. Exclamation points are overused and make copy sound juvenile or informal.  So unless that is your goal, please do without, except in rare cases where you are genuinely convening something that is extremely exciting.

Oxford Dictionary explains:

“People tend to use a lot of exclamation marks in informal writing such as emails or text messages, but you should avoid using them in formal writing.”

And that pretty much sums it up.