Modern Pricing Traps and General Customer Disservice-A Rant

A bit tongue-in-cheek laced with a great deal of hyperbole, fueled by a strong sense of outrage and hopefully, blended with a dash of cynical humor.

I spend approximately 94% of my productive time doing battle with some firm or another over their pricing and promotion programs. While decorum precludes me (for now) from sharing names, you know them as cable providers, internet providers, cellular carriers, satellite radio firms (oops, only one of those out there), publishing firms and every other firm who is staffed by evil pricing practitioners bent on creating ever more nefarious and diabolical schemes to ensnare, entrap and consume all discretionary income and most life savings.

In some unscientific polling, 105% of the people I know (math is not my strong suit) have at one time or another in the last three days been ensnared in some form of pricing program that promised the moon and the stars for a song and ended up delivering Jersey Girls or dropped calls or 146,000 radio channels all playing three Rolling Stones songs.

The websites and systems are brilliantly designed to simplify sign-up, contracting and installation. However, as D-Day approaches with the end of the promotion period, and the $89 monthly fee is scheduled to elevate to something that looks the U.S. monthly interest payment on the national debt, should you want to cancel, you are required to go on a search rivaling the hunt for the fabled Lost City of Z deep in the Amazon. In case you don’t know the story, no one has ever found it and no one has ever come back.

The statistic the U.S. Department of Labor does not share with us (according to my unnamed source) is that 50% of all unemployed Americans remain that way because they have been on the phone for 7 months or more to (insert foreign country name) either trying to cancel their contract or collect on that big inheritance promised by their new best friend via e-mail in (insert next favorite e-mail country of origin name).

The upside of all of this is that I’ve developed deep relationships with people named Ralph and Ann and Bob who strangely all speak with thick accents and don’t sound at all like a Ralph, Ann or Bob. We now exchange birthday cards

And while I suspect I’m exaggerating just a bit, this modern world seems to be characterized by firms and marketers who missed the memo on building trust with their customers, and who instead insist on treating us both like lemmings and then making us miserable when trying to unwind our obligations according to our legal and contracted rights.

This situation is extended indefinitely in what can only be the second worst pricing idea (after the low-low start up), and that is the infamous customer retention program. “Stay with us and we’ll reduce your payment from the size of the interest on the U.S. debt to $89 for 6 months.”  OK, and then what? “You’ll have to do this all over again, of course.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The tactics are insulting. The retention programs are insane. And the hard to access, poor quality, unintelligible and truly maddening overseas customer support is just revolting. Great way to treat your customers. Now, I’ve got to take a time-out…I just received a pop-up ad promoting a new pop-up blocker that I can use for free for 3 months if I commit to a year at the normal rate. Sounds good…wonder who I’ll meet on the support line this time!

Guest Marketing Post-Succeeding with Video

Helping Clients with VideoNote from Art: Whether you work inside the walls of a corporation or you make your office wherever you can grab a good connection and a great cup of coffee, chances are that you will come face-to-face with the need to appear on camera at some point in time. For many of us, the thought isn’t exactly a welcome one.

I had my first video encounter to promote the launch of my essay collection, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development, and while painful, in the end after the self-induced stress wore off and the almost-expletives cleared the air and I had regained my ability to say, “action-packed” versus the now classic line captured as “action-paction,” it was fun and I believe beneficial. So much so, that I’ve agreed to start a monthly videocast.

I’m not alone in my video-phobia, and in comparing notes with many of my colleagues, it seems we all struggle with the same issues. We also agree that the benefits of building a video presence strongly outweigh any of the personal reasons for avoiding this. To support our efforts, I encouraged Amber Wallor and Edgar Mourans, the two pros behind Left Hand Marketing and the drive to help small business owners and even hapless actors like me build a video presence, to offer us some guidance.

Like everything else these two great people do, they went above and beyond the call of duty, offering a free e-book filled with tips and brief video clip to show that they are willing to face the camera as well! Use their advice wisely, and of course don’t be bashful in reaching out to them for help. Did I mention they are entrepreneurs! Enjoy the resources and good luck in your small screen careers!

What causes you to freeze up, mispronounce words, suffer from memory loss, and blabber senselessly about ideas that are normally second nature to you while watching your every move? A video camera!

We are passionate about the effectiveness of video marketing. Video is a powerful tool for businesses and individuals looking to gain an edge against competitors.

Video allows you to showcase what differentiates you while giving people the feeling that they already know you before ever doing business with you. It goes with the old cliché, people like doing business with people they know, like and trust. More so, video brings increased exposure and higher search results. YouTube is owned by Google and is one of the largest search engines; so naturally, Google favors websites with video in its search results. In fact, videos are 53 times more likely than traditional websites to receive a first-page ranking on Google.

Nevertheless, being on camera is easier said than done. We haven’t had one client who hasn’t feared being recorded. For the majority of people, being in front of the camera is quite an unpleasant feeling to say the least. It’s like hating the sound of your own voice but ten times worse!e-book cover about Being Comfortable on Camera

Here’s Some Help:

To help you with overcoming that fear, we have been inspired to create a mini e-book (and we had fun creating the pictures on the cover) that will guide you in the right direction.

Watch your confidence grow with our list of helpful tips on preparing yourself when it’s time for the lights, camera, and action (or “action-paction” as Art has been known to say)!

It’s truly an amazing sight to watch our clients transform through the camera lens, some even begin to enjoy being on camera! If you find other things that work for you, we’d love to hear from you and add them to future revisions of our e-book.

P.S. We’d like to thank Art for being so great to work with and for being a good sport about action-paction!

In writing a post on the importance of video, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to release a video of our own about the e-book. Hey, we can all use the practice!

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 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!