It’s Friday!

I had the day off for my birthday, and I’m hanging out with my family this weekend to celebrate. Here’s a few links to kick off an awesome weekend!


For my fellow writers, Angeline wrote a great post at The New Professional: The Myth of the Rough Draft

For those with ambition, via The Daily Muse: Moving on Up: How to Ask for a Promotion

For the busy business person, via Corporette: Guide to Freezing Food (GREAT comments section as well, so many tips for a buys lifestyle!)

For those ready to make a move, via Mr. Money Mustache: Moving to a Better Place

Like the links? Follow me on Twitter for links and posts every day!

Subtle Selling

I went to Panera yesterday morning to pick up some pastries for a company meeting. As usual, the cashier asked if I had a reward card, and asked if I’d like to get a reward card. I said, “no” to both. However, I might just change my mind after my experience!

The cashier gave me the reward card discount anyway, which took about 8% off my order total. When I saw that total ring up, I almost asked for the paperwork for the reward card right then. However, I was in a hurry, so I decided to just wait until next time. This is a great strategy for getting people to sign up for the card. The restaurant is not losing any money by giving me the reward discount, as they budgeted for this “loss” when they started the loyalty program. It makes me feel good about my relationship with the company, allows me to try out the discount, and gives me the satisfaction of savings. My only thought was that the cashier should’ve told me he was giving me the discount anyway, just as a courtesy. I happened to notice, but not all customers would. This is a great sales opportunity, so calling attention to the benefits of the loyalty program might have tipped the scales.

While waiting for my breakfast sandwich, two other customers used their reward cards. Both of them were eligible for a free coffee that morning! Wait, I can get free coffee if I get a reward card? You didn’t tell me THAT! These customers were giving reviews without even knowing it. Seeing other customers utilize the loyalty program was helpful in showing me the ease and the benefits. They were able to give their phone number to pull up their rewards account, and the cashier helpfully told them their freebie-eligibility. I like that they make it easy… you don’t even have to keep up with a coupon or points! Again, had I not been in a hurry, I would have picked up the paperwork.

Your customers can be your best sales people, and a product sample goes a long way toward making the sale. I’ll be signing up for the Panera reward card next time I visit the restaurant, and I their subtle selling gets all the credit.

Tweet Your Customer Service

My exchange with @NBAA

Yesterday’s post talked about Blockbuster’s missed opportunity to provide great customer service. Today’s experience is the exact opposite, as I had a great customer experience over Twitter with the NBAA. Our conference starts in just a few weeks, and I’ve been waiting patiently (ok, not so patiently, but still) for the shuttle bus schedule to post on their website. My boss is also waiting patiently (again, not so patiently, but still!) for me to give him the information about the shuttle. While checking my Twitter feed, an update from @NBAA posted, and I decided, why not tweet them about the shuttle schedule? I haven’t interacted with them much via social media, and I’ve been pretty skeptical of the value of Twitter in this industry. But, they’ve proved me wrong on this one!

Speed. After tweeting my question about the bus schedule, I received an answer a few minutes later, instead of days later like I’ve experienced when emailing the conference organizers. This speed is the major appeal of Twitter, allowing for multiple active conversations. When companies take customer service online, they’re able to detect and solve problems much faster than phone or email. This is especially helpful during conferences, as events happen quick! Plugging in to the conference Twitter feed is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss key moments at the show. When time is of the essence, Twitter is a valuable tool.

Broad reach. I know I’m not the only person looking for the shuttle schedule, so the NBAA was able to help a lot of people by replying to my question with the link. Now, all their followers can see that the link is ready, and the NBAA won’t be dealing with the same question from 100 different attendees. The broad reach on Twitter is a contributing factor to the speed mentioned above. Social media reaches tons of people in just a few keystrokes, making information more available to everyone. Instead of one-off communication, companies can engage their customers en masse.

Remember me. This is more about good customer service, but I’m glad they didn’t forget about my question. It’s been almost a week since I asked them for the schedule, and I figured I’d just have to check back on the website daily until the schedule posted. Instead, the NBAA remembered me, and it made me feel like a valued member of their network. Many social media platforms offer tools to help you remember to get back to someone, and my name popping up in their feed might have jogged their memory about my question. Remembering your customers is key! Don’t let their questions go unanswered when you have the tools available to get them the information they need.

I’ve seen value from Twitter in other projects, and I think the NBAA is effectively using their Twitter feed to enhance the upcoming show. I love to see companies use tools to provide excellent customer service, and I think Blockbuster can learn a few things from the NBAA. Have you seen social media and customer service in action?

Keep Your Current Customers Happy

My husband and I use Blockbuster for our movies. We started this when we lived within walking distance of Blockbuster, so trading in our movies was a great perk for using their service over Netflix. Our life has been pretty busy recently, and we no longer live close to a Blockbuster store. Thus, we decided that we should downgrade our monthly plan. Imagine our surprise and frustration when we found out that Blockbuster has lowered the price of our current plan by $2, and didn’t give us the new price! We’re paying $16.99 per month, and it’s been reduced to $14.99 per month! It’s not really about the money, but rather feeling like we’re unappreciated and that they’re taking advantage of us. This is not how you want your current customers to feel (especially when you’re tanking as bad as Blockbuster!)

A lot of companies miss opportunities to keep their current customers happy. Blockbuster could have made a great impression by sending us an email with the message, “Thanks for being loyal. We’re lowering your monthly payment because we appreciate your business. Enjoy the savings!” This would have made us feel like valued customers, and we would want to stay with Blockbuster because we feel like we can trust them to give us great service and fair pricing. Now, we have a sour taste in our mouth because we feel like Blockbuster has been jipping us for the past few months! This price change was a great opportunity to solidify our loyalty by treating us well, and instead, they’ve made us angry.

Acquisition costs for new customers are much higher than maintenance costs for current customers. Sure, you lose $2 per month by giving us a price break. But you’re about to lose $14.99 per month because we want to switch to a company that will give us better service, including the discounts they’re giving to new customers. If we were in a year-long contract, I could understand not passing on the discount, but this is a month-to-month service! Some companies are so focused on growing the number of customers that they forget to look at revenue growth. You’ll lose revenue if you’re constantly chasing new customers by offering them a lower price, while excluding your loyal customers from the new price.

There’s a reason Blockbuster has had some hard years, and their strategy for reaching and keeping good customers might be a contributing factor. So, I say to companies everywhere: Keep Your Current Customers Happy…. your bottom line will be happier in the long-run!

It’s Friday!

I’m in for a fun-filled weekend with my husband’s family, and I’m kicking off the weekend with boot camp tonight. Here’s what I’m reading until then:


For those starting a new job (and I’m excited that my article was feature on Forbes!): 5 Extreme Behaviors to Avoid

For those who have nightmares about wardrobe malfunctions, via Corporette: Wardrobe Malfunctions (HILARIOUS comments on this thread!)

For those determining others’ compensation, via Seth’s Blog: But What if it Works?

For those considering higher education, via ERE Blog: The Secret to Education


Like the links? Follow me on Twitter for links and post every day!

Tests and Grade Inputs

I had coffee with a friend the other night, and we started discussing college readiness and testing. She teaches AP US History at a local high school, and she said the standardized testing requirements are killing her opportunity to teach and test in a way that will prepare her students for college. Going back for my MBA has been a big change in testing and grade inputs from what I experienced in undergrad, and I feel that high school grades and tests were somewhere in between. In theory, all of this education will prepare you for your career, but I’ve noticed some pretty significant differences between academic tests and real world test.

There’s a pretty big discrepancy between the number of grade inputs in undergrad, grad school, and the real world. For my first two years in undergrad, we had multiple-choice tests, essay tests, homework assignments, and short papers or case studies, similar to high school. So, if you bombed one test, you weren’t too bad off. However, my last two years, which consisted of upper-level classes in my major, were solely case studies, papers, and presentations. There were fewer grade inputs, but still enough to ensure that bombing one case study wouldn’t kill you. I feel like it’s pretty similar to the real world, with lots of projects contributing to your overall “grade” at your performance review. It was a pretty big shock to the system to enter graduate school and find out that most of my classes have only two grade inputs: a mid-term and a final. A few have an additional grade input in the form of a case study or presentation. But still, only two grades, for a whole semester? So if I’m foggy on test day, I’m in trouble! I don’t feel like this minimal number of grade inputs corresponds well to the real world, at least not at the entry level. Very few of my projects are deal-breakers, based on the performance for 2 hours, once a quarter.

There’s also a pretty big discrepancy between academic testing and the real world, in that you rarely have to go completely without notes in the real world. Even on the deal-breaker presentations, I’ve got my notes to refer to, or a PowerPoint to jog my memory. It’s rare that I have to stand in a room and use only the knowledge in my head. I never have to forgo a calculator or Excel spreadsheet when I’m working on calculations, and I can Bing the formulas if I forget them. So, it’s a little odd, particularly in business school, to be forced to only use my head knowledge for a test every 2 months. I feel like the presentations and group work in undergrad was much more representative of working in the corporate world. I think grad school will move in this direction once I finish my basic classes, but I think it’s odd that colleges still use these old testing methods. A lot of research says that US education is terrible because we focus so much on standardized tests that require memorization and regurgitation, instead of critical thinking. You’d think by the time we reach college, we’d be able to handle testing in a way that mirrors real-world critical and creative thinking in the long-run, instead of fact cramming in the short-run.

Finally, academic tests and grade inputs are measured differently than the real world. Most colleges grade on a curve using single numbers to measure performance. There’s not really a degree of success, particularly in the case of multiple-choice tests. This, again, does not mirror the real world. I can complete a project at work with a number of different solutions that result in a number of different outcomes. It’s possible that we were aiming for outcome #1, but ended up with a superior outcome #2. Current testing and grade inputs don’t really allow for different outcomes, and don’t take into account that the “correct” test answer may not be the best answer in the real world. It’s a little frustrating to deal with tests and grades when you know they aren’t correlated to real-world scenarios.

It’s interesting to think about our educational path, and what we’re actually striving for. In high school, it seems like the only goal is to get into a good college, and in college, you are looking for a good job upon graduation. But, if we’re not teaching, testing, and grading in ways that improve our skills and knowledge for the job, what’s the point of all this extra schooling? If you’re considering a graduate program, I highly recommend taking a look at how they test and grade, and look for a program with an emphasis on cases and presentations, as I feel they are much more indicative of what you’ll experience in the real world.

Terrible UI

Let’s talk about a horrible user interface. You know, the kind that makes you wonder if you’re just completely stupid, because you can’t find the “buy now” button? I recently tried to pay my water bill online, and the UI was awful, and my water bill is still unpaid!

First, we thought we could pay online because they let us opt for electronic statements and online bill pay. We can go online and view the statement, so I was looking for the “Pay a Bill” button, directly beneath the total. No such button. I found it odd, but then I thought that maybe I’d missed something on Account homepage. So, I’ll just click on the “Account” link, right? Wait… where’s the “Account” link? Ohhh, maybe “Home” and “Account” are the same thing, since I’m signed in to my account. I click the “Home” link, and it puts me on the homepage for the company, not my account. And, apparently, now there’s a link for the account page? Ok, fine, I’ll click that so that I can find the “Pay Bill” button. Upon clicking the “Account” link, I’m prompted to sign in again. But I never signed out! After signing in again, I see my bill, but STILL no place to actually pay it. I go back to the company homepage that has a button to “Pay Bills Online”. But the description above the button is a sales pitch for apartment managers on why they should buy the online bill pay product to make it easier for tenants to pay. This makes me think that we don’t actually have the ability to pay online, and they’re just showing electronic statements for… fun? CSR? Branding? At this point, I’m thoroughly confused, so I think I’ll just try one more time, because surely, I’m smarter than UI in 2011. After diligently searching for a few more minutes, I give up, and decide to sign out. But, there’s no “Sign Out” button. So, wait, how do I get out of my account? Now I’m just frustrated and annoyed. I can’t even sign out of the stinkin’ account, so I use the broken method of going to the company homepage.

In short, these people need a serious sit-down with a UI professional. The whole site was ridiculously confusing and unhelpful. If my apartment isn’t signed up for online bill pay, can you at least tell me that, so I don’t click all over your whole site trying to find a way to pay you? Can you put some descriptive buttons in a few key places? Don’t be this company, confusing and frustrating your customers, and losing a sale!

Let the Cold Calls Begin

A big industry trade show is just a few weeks away, and I’ve been getting cold calls all over the place for a myriad of different services and products. We always talk about the latest thing, but I’ve found that some sales tactics are tried and true.

The direct and authoritative route. One sales person called me with such an authoritative voice, I almost thought he was with the official show staff. He quickly told me his name and company and immediately asked for the dimensions and weight of my shipment. I barely had time to process that this gentlemen was about to sell me shipping services! I’m open to quotes for our booth shipment, so I after explaining that I’d be open to some information about his company, I gave him my email address. This route is pretty abrasive to me, so I don’t recommend it in most situations. But for cold calling? Be direct, be the authority, and make them hear you in the first 10 seconds… before they hang up!

The price route. Most of the vendors use this approach, opening with something along the lines of, “Ashley, I’m sure you would love to save money on shipping your booth. I’ve been able to save my customers $x dollars, why don’t I send you some information about how we can meet your needs cheaper!” This route seems to stand the test of time, because who doesn’t want to save money? The problem is that my in-house shipping crew runs tons of packages through two regular providers. Thus, they get a special discount, which is passed on to my shipment when the time comes. Most of the people calling only handle booth shipments, but we don’t ship our booth often enough to receive the prime rates from these companies. Again, I give them my email address for quote information, but most of the time, it’s a bust.

The “different, unique, quirky, unexpected” route. This tactic is a staple in a lot of industries, particularly at trade show booths. All of these vendors are calling to say that their unexpected talent will woo attendees to my booth. This is, undoubtedly, true. Last year’s conference featured a spin-the-wheel carnival game at one booth, a trapeze routine (yes, girls hanging from the ceiling!) at another booth, and a chair massage at another booth. Essentially, EVERYONE has something “unique” going on at their booth. The problem is that at a show of this size, most of the people who come to watch the show aren’t actually decent customers. My company deals with engine maintenance for planes, so while I’d love to go see the caricature artist at the interior upholstery booth, the fact of the matter is that I have absolutely no need for their services. They can try to engage me as I’m getting my portrait, but they’ll quickly find that I’m not worth their time. I think quirky attractions have their place when all attendees need all the services displayed, but generally, I feel that most shows are too big to benefit from this type of gimmick. As a marketer, I think your message, brand, and product should speak loudly enough, without a fake teaser!

It’s been interesting to receive the first round of calls, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. It makes me glad I’m not in sales, as I’ve yet to take advantage of any of the “deals” these reps are offering!

Package Pricing

My mother-in-law is gaining steam in a business for hand-decorated theme cookies. She’s the owner and the sole employee, and she does some pretty amazing designs with icing! She’s been asking for pricing advice over the last few months, and I think she’s finally made some strides in how she’s pricing her items. I wanted to share a quick bit of insight that we recently discussed!

She offers several different sizes of each cookie, and several different levels of decoration. The price is a function of size and decorative complexity, so she’s been pricing the cookies individually. This model works well for cookies, as the sizes and decoration are customizable. However, she also has other baked goods, like mini muffins. She intended to price the mini muffins individually as well, but it would come out to something like $0.50 per muffin. She also wanted to factor in the cost of the container and ribbon, and considered pricing these a la carte as well. Instead, I suggested going with a different route: offer 3 different amounts of muffins, and either standard or premium packaging. I explained that it feels like “nickel and diming” if you start requesting 1 additional muffin, and charging an extra $0.50, a “nice” bow for $1 instead of $0.75, and a bigger tag for $0.75 instead of $0.50.  Offering a single price for standard packaging and premium packaging also applies to any future products, so she’s not having to list out many different prices for each item she offers.

She’s been asked to make up some gift bags within a certain price range, and she was debating about the type of items to include. I think the first question should be, “who is the customer, and what do they care about?”  The client is providing gift bags for Christmas to the mostly male staff, who are generally married with children. I don’t want to stereotype, but I would make the following assumptions: men care less about decoration than taste and quantity, men don’t care at all about pretty packaging, and they will take at least some of the cookies home to their wife and kids. Thus, for a given budget, I would allocate more money to quantity than decorative complexity or premium packaging. She originally suggested one large, highly decorated cookie, a small package of muffins, and a large bow. I recommended two smaller, minimally decorated cookies, a large package of muffins, and a small bow to allow for more sharing.

She hasn’t looked into her profit margins and pricing schemes too heavily, but as her business grows, she’s continuing to research the best options. I think package pricing is going to be more important as she grows the business, and I think there are a lot of ways to make customized packages without confusing the customers or sacrificing profits. If you’re in the mood for some delicious treats, check out her gallery and pricing for Moon Glitz Delicioso! She can ship anywhere in the US (and she’s shipped overseas once or twice too!), and I can say from personal experience, you don’t be disappointed 🙂