Midweek Marketing: Delta Builds Customer Experience One Detail at a Time

image of a magnifying glass hovering over the word: focus“Success is the sum of the details.” Harvey S. Firestone

I’ve been an unapologetic critic of the money losing and seemingly customer hating airline industry for many years. Anyone who has flown a million miles or more has a good view to the workings of this flying bus business (with apologies to bus companies), and the view is mostly unpleasant. (Not always, just mostly.)

Imagine my surprise when I deviated on my return trip from my normal dealings with United, and flew Delta, and I actually enjoyed the experience. I checked my calendar and it wasn’t April Fools Day or Halloween, so all of the truly good-natured, helpful and smiling Delta employees might have actually meant it.

With more than ample time on my hands in two airports, I decided to go on an anthropological expedition of Delta operations. Here’s what I saw:

7 Details that Made the Delta Experience Delightful:

1. Happy, smiling employees serving customers. From gate agents to the flight crews, I didn’t run into a single Delta employee who didn’t smile and offer help. Yes, I used the “s”  and the “h” words here. These people seemed genuinely happy to work with customers. (Related post: Smiles, Sales and Leadership.)

2. A lack of grumpy employees. Yeah I know this is redundant with my first point, but I’m still kind of shocked.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve observed the crews from other airlines (mostly United) bad-mouth their firm when they think no one is listening (sorry, I was walking behind you), or just visibly show the world that they didn’t give a damn. My favorite was the United flight attendant who wore a button that said, and I quote: “This airline sucks.”  While some people accuse me of dreaming that one up, I almost needed to go into therapy after seeing that display of callous disregard for firm, clients and self.

3. Readily available help. Traveler help was everywhere, including an abundance of small kiosks offering: “Missed Your Connection? Scan Your Ticket Here for  Alternatives.”  Getting help when things go bad is one of the more stressful elements of flying, and here was an attempt to ease this burden. Nice.  The ground-agents waiting to greet passengers and offer personal success were always there…and always smiling.

4. Easy access to the necessities of travel life. The world of business travel survives and thrives on plug-ins for power, internet access, good food and clean restrooms. A+ in the Delta terminals for these critical travel comforts.

5. Company Pride on Display! Every Delta plane sported a decal indicating that Delta had been named  one of the World’s Most Admired Corporations (tops in the airline industry) according to Fortune. OK, a little chest thumping is OK if you can back it up.

6. Employee Pride on Display! Every plane had a decal on it under the Fortune banner indicating an employee who had excelled at their job. Nice…what a badge of pride if your name hits the list. (I seem to recall that this is a long-standing practice, and if so, it’s still a good idea.)

7. Pleasant flight crews who seemed to enjoy their jobs. The banter by the pilots seemed extraordinarily friendly and the rest of the flight crew engaged with customers in way that only Southwest seems to have ever cared about.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While I’m not certain that my two terminal/two flight experience offers a valid sample set, the experience with Delta yesterday was noticeably different than the gross majority of my other airline experiences. Someone seems to be paying attention at Delta. It almost sounds like good leadership and excellent marketing… and great execution…concepts sorely lacking in much of the rest of this industry. The great experience is most definitely in the details.

I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to see if I was lucky or if they’re truly good.  And for executives and marketers everywhere, It behooves you to give your employees reasons to smile and serve. The customers are watching.




Marketing Hall of Shame-Bludgeoning Your Customers is a Bad Idea

Note from Art: this is a rave, however, I am not disclosing the firm’s name out of discretion.  They earned that for a lifetime of service up until this recent episode.  And importantly, the goal is not to pick on this firm as much as it is to illustrate a point. I directed my annoyance in a note to the firm’s CEO.  I’m still waiting for a response.

I’ve been a lifetime client of a particular hotel chain…with favorite properties in different cities, and more nights than I care to count spent in one of their convenient locations somewhere around the world.

Imagine my surprise when in a fit of insanity, I picked up the phone the other night….right after dinner (well, I answered because the caller i.d. indicated the Hotel Chain’s name, and because the troops had the dishes will in hand), and I ended up on the receiving end of an old-fashioned marketing bludgeoning.

Run on sentence for dramatization: From “Hello,” the representative from “Hotel Chain Name” Vacation Clubs launched into a breathless pitch on why my family and I should take them up on their offer to visit an Orlando property for a low, low price, not per person, but for up to x people, and that we would only have to spend 90 minutes in a meeting with them and so forth and so on etc., etc., until I started to turn blue in the face, worrying about this individual running out of air. Michael Phelps should have such good breath control.

I politely disengaged with the unwitting telemarketer, and saved my marketing outrage for the note I wrote the CEO and for this post.

You Must Be Kidding!

Seriously, Hotel Chain! You think so highly of the relationships with your clients that you’re engaging in tactics like this to reward them for years of business. Your “thanks” for patronizing your properties, holding sales meetings and conferences and sending teams out to far-away places to camp out for weeks on end in support of clients, is to call your clients and subject them to a Hall of Shame sales pitch for a time-share?

My Advice:

1. Fire the marketer who conceived of this program.

2. Fire his/her boss.

3. Rethink the value of your relationship with your customers.  Is this truly a good way to get them interested in spending more money with you?

4. While you are working on #3 above, rethink the value and meaning of your brand. People have spent careers getting to know, like and trust you, and your response is to try and cram a time-share sale down their throats!?!

5. Hire someone who understands how to strengthen relationships and engage clients with approaches that don’t reek of 1950’s era aluminum siding sales.

6. Please have your team spend some time with John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) and David Meerman Scott (New Rules of Marketing & P.R.).

7. Please take my name off of all of your lists.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

In this case, one dumb ass marketing tactic wipes out a good portion of a lifetime of great experiences. For the rest of us, remember that it never makes sense to try and bludgeon your clients into spending more with you. There’s always a better way.

Management Week in Review for March 18, 2011

Note from Art: every week, I share three thought-provoking management posts for the week. Fair warning: I take a broad view of management, so my selections will range from leadership to innovation to finance and personal development and beyond.

This week’s selections feature content on why you need to know more about Baldrige, rethinking your ideas on measuring marketing ROI and the powerful impact of Social Business on your firm’s reputation and ultimate success.

-From Steve George at Baldrige.com, Baldrige Benefits the U.S. While not the official website for Baldrige, Steve George has developed a remarkable treasure trove of information, services and helpful resources for this important and grossly under-marketed program.

In this time of remarkable challenge for businesses in the U.S. and around the world, Baldrige offers a powerful framework for planning, leading and managing your business. It’s not a silver bullet, but unless you’ve read the latest Criteria for Performance Excellence and looked at the free tools and studied how others are applying this program, you are ill informed, like much/most of the population. The piss-poor marketing of this program by our government actually makes me angry. (I’ve offered to help fix it.)  OK, off my soapbox on this one. Check out Steve’s site and check out the Criteria and other info at the official site.

From the post: “Interest in Baldrige has remained consistent for twenty years, with bumps in attention when healthcare and education criteria and awards were added, but it has never really caught on in executive suites and boardrooms across America. Those organizations that have integrated Baldrige know how well it works, but they remain a small minority in a country that could truly benefit from the Baldrige model.”

-From David Meerman Scott at WebInkNow, Marketing ROI and What You Should Measure. David just keeps cranking out remarkable and remarkably helpful material for all of us as we experiment with the many new tools of marketing. In this one, David suggests that it’s time to rethink our traditional approaches to measuring marketing performance. There’s a bit of Deming’s “unknown and unknowable” in his observations on why this is not as simple as counting followers or likes on Facebook. I always read David’s posts for the main course and then loop back for the comments with dessert.

From the post: “Now we can earn attention by creating and publishing online for free something interesting and valuable: a YouTube video, a blog, a research report, photos, a Twitter stream, an e-book, a Facebook page. But how should we measure the success of this new kind of marketing? The answer is that we need new metrics. I’m critical of applying old forms of offline measurement to online marketing.

From Bret L. Simmons at Positive Organizational Behavior: Ugly Customer Service is Bad Social Business. Bret is quickly becoming a major voice in the Social Business arena, and he’s someone I learn from daily. One of the things I love about many of his posts is his propensity to connect social media/social business with how we live, learn and choose. In the example here, Bret showcases how dumb-ass marketing and stupid comments from poorly trained representatives can turn into bad outcomes for the business at the speed of  a tweet…or at least a post.

From the post: “As I’ve said before, service providers will fail from time to time. I’m fine with that. But when a paying customer – especially a loyal one – gives you the opportunity to address what they think was a service failure, you better provide impressive service recovery. If you don’t recover in the eyes of the customer, you earned both the loss of their business and the bad word of mouth marketing they will spread about your business in their increasingly connected social networks. Ugly customer service is very bad for social business.”

Ok, that’s it for the week. I’ll be back on Monday with a new Leadership Caffeine to help you jump-start your week.

And I’m excited to be releasing my new Decision-Making workshop program next week. I’ve run the early versions with great success in association and organizational settings and I’m looking for teams and groups interested in improving performance immediately with this critical and often highly flawed process.  You can reach me on this or any other of my workshop, consulting or speaking offerings via e-mail. I look forward to helping!

10 of My Favorite Dumb Ass Management Mistakes

Rear view of a brown horse. Note 1 from Art: this one is rated something or another for strong language and emotional intensity.

Note 2: In the spirit of my post, At Least 20 Things to Stop Doing as a Leader,” which has grown well north of 50 thanks to a deluge of reader comments, I’m back with a list of some insanely stupid and all-too-common management mistakes. These focus more on the decisions, actions or inactions that contribute to creating even bigger problems. While I’ve remained on the positive side of the law here (felons, you’ve had your day!), some of these mistakes are truly criminal. Please feel free to chime in with your additions.

1. Locking the corporate strategy in a drawer. Hey, I’m all for security, but this wasn’t just protecting important documents. This executive didn’t bother to share the strategy with employees either. It was a secret.

2. Not rolling out the sales compensation plan until late March. The sales team was on a calendar year. Hmmm, what did everyone do for Q1?

3. This one is epidemic…sucking the value out of an acquired company by folding, spindling, mutilating, disrespecting, vanquishing and otherwise conquering and plundering the target. We’ve got a mountain of evidence of this, and still, dumb a@@ executives focus on the deal (the easy part) and forget the real work of properly and positively managing the new relative. Welcome to the family! Now bend over and cough.

4. Looking for cause in the effect. This is a daily occurrence in many businesses, where managers run around trying to explain the drivers behind company, competitor and market outcomes. “Hey, our competitor keeps putting up great numbers. They’ve gone to a formal dress code at the office. It must be the clothes.” OK, that’s a little far-fetched, but I double-dog dare you to find a few instances of misguided cause and effect in your workplace today.

5. Losing sight of the core issues in the heat of argument. The decision making process is complex. Add in a group of high powered and big ego managers and you’re certain to be pressured into a dumb a** decision. My favorite evil tactic, “Take of your (insert function) hat and put on your business hat.” You might as well have a lobotomy prior to making that decision, because that’s what your evil counterpart is essentially asking you to do.

6. Letting marketing define its own key performance indicators. Hey, I’m a lifetime marketer, and I still rankle at this one.  If the marketing activities don’t specifically connect to the key levers that move the business forward, they are interesting to some but useless to many.

7. Sliding down the slippery slope of consensus decision-making. Everybody doesn’t get a vote unless we’re talking about ordering pizza. We’ve all seen the cartoon that indicates in a series of panels what various functions wanted in a new product development effort. The Rube Goldberg outcome looks nothing like what the customer wanted. Start looking for the moves away from smart and good in the consensus-based decisions on your teams. It should frighten you.

8. “It’s sunk cost. We can’t worry about what we’ve spent, we need to keep moving forward.” Ha! This rationale has derailed careers and destabilized nations. For the love of all this is good in humanity, quit burning money when all the signs say “Stop!”

9. Daily occurrence in this economy: failing to acquire the right talent because of cost controls. Yeah, let’s fix this one once we’re making money! (For 20 bonus points, identify the insane and inane thought processes that went into that last statement.)

10. Annual occurrence: putting a group of managers in a room one time per year and expecting that out of the collective group grope, market winning strategies will emerge. “Hey, great meeting. See you next year.” We’ll maybe…unless our competitors leave us for global road kill.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The common denominator in all ten of those very real mistakes is that they are controllable. We can decide to not make these mistakes. The sales comp plan can hit the street with the new year. We don’t have to throw good money after bad, and we don’t have to engage in practices like the annual strategy planning retreat (it’s a process!) that are just stupid. If you can’t go out and get the talent that you need now with what’s walking around on the street, you’re either not trying hard enough or you need to find some other people to work for.

Instead of thinking deep thoughts about making good decisions as part of your New Year’s Resolutions, why not resolve to simply not make the same bad old decisions over and over again. Now that would be progress.

“And He Kicks Children in the Face,” and Other Insane Approaches to Competing

Right or WrongAs business leaders, we make decisions every day about how our firms and our people compete.

Most of us choose to focus on creating value and solving problems. A few resort to “win at all” costs type behaviors. This latter group poses some vexing problems for those of us that prefer the high-road style of competing for business, but the problems are not insurmountable.

The current competition for political office offers an interesting learning opportunity for all of us. And just when you think that the negative attack ads cannot become any more blatant or vicious, this season’s crop of politicians have managed to outdo themselves.

Political Buffoonery is the New Competitive Strategy:

Political ads this season have in my observation managed to hit a new high in audacity and ridiculousness, correlating to a new low on my informal Fair Competition Meter.

Perhaps it’s the state that I live in: Illinois, where serving as Governor typically translates into indictment on several counts and some quality time in jail, but the attack ads are over the top this year. And darned funny in some cases.

I love (He says sarcastically) the ones that put some real heart into their production value. They typically start out with soft music, a soft voice and a pleasant scene, right before resolving into something that positions the hapless opponent as someone sent from the lowest tier of Dante’s Inferno on a mission to lure us back into the pit.  I would love to be a fly on the wall in the production meetings for these ridiculous commercials. Sadly, they probably do sway some voters.

My favorite dumb political ad comes from our friends up north in Winnipeg This video starts out with the expected claims about the incompetent incumbent mayor and resolves with what can only be described as an emmy-winning scene produced by complete morons.  I’m sorry, but I laughed out loud at the ending of this commercial, because I cannot believe that someone actually thought to package this scene and use the words, “And he kicks children in the face,” in an ad. (Note: it’s not clear whether this ad is genuine or a spoof, but enjoy the chuckle, and frankly, it’s not far off of what we’re seeing and hearing ever day.)

Six Ideas on Forming the Right Competitive Culture:

1. Choose to compete with class and professionalism. We all choose our style of competing in business. We have the opportunity to attack and assassinate the character of our competitors, or, we can go about winning business with class and professionalism. Opting for the latter doesn’t mean that you don’t compete with ferocity, it just means that you do so in a manner that allows you to comfortably look in the mirror at yourself.

2. Use negative competition as rocket fuel for your team. Competition is inherent in business (and life). Recognize it as fuel that catalyzes action and drives improvement. Use it to motivate, energize and foster innovation.

3. Don’t flirt with character disaster. The philosophy of “Win at All Costs” is an invitation to flirt with and engage in unethical behavior. Resist the flirtation. The cost of your character should be higher than winning the next deal.

4. Negative attacks showcase hollow strategies. Attacking competitors in front of your customer shows how weak and unarmed you truly are. The negative attack is the last resort of the desperate and incompetent. If you have no way to truly create value for your customer, your last and best attempt is to discredit your opponent. This is not a sustainable strategy.

5. Recognize that some people buy the negative sell and you cannot control it. Don’t reduce yourself to your competitor’s level and start launching missiles in return. Focus on solving problems, creating value and resist being baited into a war of mutual destruction.  You might lose once in awhile to your muck-raking competitor. That’s OK. The negative buyer is typically the worst kind of customer.

6. Don’t be baited into playing the game. It is good to understand your competitor’s style and tactics. However, resist the urge to build your messaging as a point-counter-point response. Instead, ensure that your process of engaging the client and building value for your offerings makes the negative attacks look like the childish, desperate attempts that they truly are.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Negative political ads are as old as this republic (and older), and likely won’t disappear anytime soon. That’s too bad. The same goes for negative tactics in business.  As a leader, you set the tone for how your firm and your team members compete. I vote to focus on creating meaningful differentiation from my competitors and to putting all of our energy into solving customer problems. While the noise from the muck-raking competitors is annoying, it’s rarely fatal to anyone other than those raking the muck in the first place.