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NSA Leaks: The Big Data Two Step for Businesses This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on June 10, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I expect we will be seeing a lot of dancing over the next few...

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Coming to an Agency Near You! This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 23, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I am often pondering what is next in the world in which we...

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Customer Service Week: Here's Your Call Center This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 7, 2013.  To see the original post click here. As we begin Customer Service Week I want to thank all those...

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Defining the Customer Experience Role This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here. Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses...

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Apple's #Fail When Dealing with @MarthaStewart This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 30, 2013.  To see the original post click here. It feels like it was the Tweet heard around the world: "I...

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I wanted to make sure you all knew that I am Frank, not 4123 1234 5678 9012

Posted on : 28-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Technology

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We all have cravings for an emotional connection to others, yet the majority of our life we steer clear of these connections. How has the computer age impacted your life? I think the majority of us would say it has made life easier, opened up numerous doors of knowledge, and the internet has brought about so many more connections to people we would have never had the opportunity to meet. It has also brought about the depersonalization of society in many ways. When you look at messages to each other, they are not the long love letters that we have seen in so many movies. They are short email messages, or better yet text messages to the ones we love. How personal are our connections in social media? Do you share your most intimate thoughts or are your messages a bit more controlled? I would assume the latter.

Many people who know me well would probably not consider me the most emotional person, and the outward person I portray may show that. But we all are human and there is a human need to connect with others, seek approval from others, a few nice words, and in some cases a few negative words. It helps us meet this emotional need.

So what does this all have to do with anything? As I mentioned in my last post, I am reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, and it is really make me think about a lot of things. In the book he basically says we are still in the industrial world, and as part of our job we are the factory workers, the cogs in the wheel. I have thought a lot about this, and where did it all come from. In some ways I think we evolved into more of the factory scenario, but I would have to do a lot more research to confirm that. I am not saying the dictating from the top down was not there, because it was, but they process side of everything we do, in my opinion, is part of a depersonalization that has been happening for a long time. For most companies, especially the larger ones, people are not known by there name, but instead there employee number. Hi I am 12345678, pleased to meet you. Before computers I would guess I was still Frank. I would bet it is easier to layoff 12345678, then it would be to lay off Frank or Jane or Jim or Jason and the list goes on and on. I would also guess that when an employee is not as much a number, but instead a person, the amount of emotional value they would add to the organization would be much greater. They could become that artist that transforms the organization or creates the next big product or completely wins over your Customer. But instead today, many do not invest any, or very little emotion, and there is minimal connection to the company.

So we were just talking about employees, but what about Customers? Well I know I am a number at most places I do business with. The funny thing is Customer data that companies have is enormous, yet none of it builds an emotional connection or emotional understanding of the Customer. Many companies have Voice of the Customer programs, which has some roots in the Six Sigma quality improvement process. The interesting thing about Six Sigma is everything is about data and numbers, but they call it “Voice of the Customer. I have been trained in Six Sigma, and I do see some of the value it created in organizations, but I wonder how much emotional value it removed from an organization. The concept converts everything into data and hopefully the data will guide you through the process. Wow, that sounds like cogs in the wheel doesn’t it? Seth, you may have some strong points in your book! Even those doing the project have no emotional connection. Anyway, back to the Customer. The leaders in the organization only have one connection to the Customer and that is the data that is shared with them everyday. That is not very emotional. That is why companies have not changed the Customer experience much over the years, except in some cases getting worse. No emotional connection to make sure it was right. That is why I have always emphasized the Customer story. Executives, and employees are tired of pure data, and the story from that data has not always created the right decisions. So if you want to improve your organization, share the Customer’s story, make that emotional connection, and I can guarantee you that change will happen!
\
BTW, I wanted to make sure you all knew that I am Frank, not 4123 1234 5678 9012 or 12345678

Is Social Media A Fundamental Shift for Customer Service?

Posted on : 27-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Social Media

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As I am sitting here preparing for my keynote at the Call Center Summit in Orlando I keep thinking about this question.  I have seen a fascination with social media uses by companies, and a quest for the best possible direction for them to take.  In the past year I have seen more and more companies come to the  realization that a key aspect for social media is service related.  I applaud them for coming to this realization, but I have to wonder why it has taken so long.
So is social media a fundamental shift in the way your organization handles Customer Service?  Is it a shift in your own mind regarding Customer Service?  If it is, I hope you are not in the Customer Service field.  I am sitting here wondering why companies and individuals feel this way.  Isn’t the most basic building block of Customer Service helping those in need?  I think we have forgotten this most basic tenet of Customer Service.  Today I will be asking the audience why they like this field and how they are leading the organization from a Customer Service perspective.
Yesterday I picked up Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin: Are you Indispensable.”  I was shocked to see the kind mention I received (Thank you Seth!).  As I started to read it I thought “oh no, now we are going to have chaos as people strive to become artists. ”  But as I read on I started to see what Seth has always known.  Today’s work environment is still the same as it was during the industrial age.  We are cogs in this wheel of life, and there are very few that break through this mold to become Linchpins.  Since you have not read it yet (and I recommend you do), you can think of the leadership as the industrialist and the rest as factory workers doing a process.  The Linchpin is the factory worker who steps in and redefines the organization, product or process.  Today we may view the Linchpin as a trouble maker or someone stirring the pot, but as Seth points out they are more the visionary or artist drawing and shaping the future.
What does Linchpin have to do with Customer Service?  Everything.  In many organizations Customer Service is the true representation of the factory worker.  Every answer scripted, step by step process during every call.  Rigid structure with talk time, handle time, schedule adherence, script adherence, and the list goes on and on and on.  There was a time when this was not as true.  We did not make the job a process but an opportunity for this factory worker to build a relationship, take ownership and in shocking news, help the Customer.  As we built Customer Service into this machine, we further distanced the bourgeoisie, I mean company leadership, from the Customer.  I think the trouble is for too long people in this field have been the cogs in the wheel.  The challenge to this is the cogs did not let the industrialist know what was broken or how to fix it.  They did what they needed to do.  In some cases the industrialist did not even care it was broken, at least until the bottom line was impacted.  Of course many time it was too late at that point.
So back to the question, is it a shift in fundamentals?  No, but it is a return to a more simpler time when Customer Service was really about helping Customers.  Novel idea!I am sitting here preparing for my keynote at the Call Center Summit in Orlando I keep thinking about this question.  I have seen a fascination with social media uses by companies, and a quest for the best possible direction for them to take.  In the past year I have seen more and more companies come to the  realization that a key aspect for social media is service related.  I applaud them for coming to this realization, but I have to wonder why it has taken so long.
So is social media a fundamental shift in the way your organization handles Customer Service?  Is it a shift in your own mind regarding Customer Service?  If it is, I hope you are not in the Customer Service field.  I am sitting here wondering why companies and individuals feel this way.  Isn’t the most basic building block of Customer Service helping those in need?  I think we have forgotten this most basic tenet of Customer Service.  Today I will be asking the audience why they like this field and how they are leading the organization from a Customer Service perspective.
Yesterday I picked up Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin: Are you Indispensable.”  I was shocked to see the kind mention I received (Thank you Seth!).  As I started to read it I thought “oh no, now we are going to have chaos as people strive to become artists. ”  But as I read on I started to see what Seth has always known.  Today’s work environment is still the same as it was during the industrial age.  We are cogs in this wheel of life, and there are very few that break through this mold to become Linchpins.  Since you have not read it yet (and I recommend you do), you can think of the leadership as the industrialist and the rest as factory workers doing a process.  The Linchpin is the factory worker who steps in and redefines the organization, product or process.  Today we may view the Linchpin as a trouble maker or someone stirring the pot, but as Seth points out they are more the visionary or artist drawing and shaping the future.
What does Linchpin have to do with Customer Service?  Everything.  In many organizations Customer Service is the true representation of the factory worker.  Every answer scripted, step by step process during every call.  Rigid structure with talk time, handle time, schedule adherence, script adherence, and the list goes on and on and on.  There was a time when this was not as true.  We did not make the job a process but an opportunity for this factory worker to build a relationship, take ownership and in shocking news, help the Customer.  As we built Customer Service into this machine, we further distanced the bourgeoisie, I mean company leadership, from the Customer.  I think the trouble is for too long people in this field have been the cogs in the wheel.  The challenge to this is the cogs did not let the industrialist know what was broken or how to fix it.  They did what they needed to do.  In some cases the industrialist did not even care it was broken, at least until the bottom line was impacted.  Of course many time it was too late at that point.
So back to the question, is it a shift in fundamentals?  No, but it is a return to a more simpler time when Customer Service was really about helping Customers.  Novel ideaAs I am sitting here preparing for my keynote at the Call Center Summit in Orlando I keep thinking about this question.  I have seen a fascination with social media uses by companies, and a quest for the best possible direction for them to take.  In the past year I have seen more and more companies come to the  realization that a key aspect for social media is service related.  I applaud them for coming to this realization, but I have to wonder why it has taken so long.
So is social media a fundamental shift in the way your organization handles Customer Service?  Is it a shift in your own mind regarding Customer Service?  If it is, I hope you are not in the Customer Service field.  I am sitting here wondering why companies and individuals feel this way.  Isn’t the most basic building block of Customer Service helping those in need?  I think we have forgotten this most basic tenet of Customer Service.  Today I will be asking the audience why they like this field and how they are leading the organization from a Customer Service perspective.
Yesterday I picked up Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin: Are you Indispensable.”  I was shocked to see the kind mention I received (Thank you Seth!).  As I started to read it I thought “oh no, now we are going to have chaos as people strive to become artists. ”  But as I read on I started to see what Seth has always known.  Today’s work environment is still the same as it was during the industrial age.  We are cogs in this wheel of life, and there are very few that break through this mold to become Linchpins.  Since you have not read it yet (and I recommend you do), you can think of the leadership as the industrialist and the rest as factory workers doing a process.  The Linchpin is the factory worker who steps in and redefines the organization, product or process.  Today we may view the Linchpin as a trouble maker or someone stirring the pot, but as Seth points out they are more the visionary or artist drawing and shaping the future.
What does Linchpin have to do with Customer Service?  Everything.  In many organizations Customer Service is the true representation of the factory worker.  Every answer scripted, step by step process during every call.  Rigid structure with talk time, handle time, schedule adherence, script adherence, and the list goes on and on and on.  There was a time when this was not as true.  We did not make the job a process but an opportunity for this factory worker to build a relationship, take ownership and in shocking news, help the Customer.  As we built Customer Service into this machine, we further distanced the bourgeoisie, I mean company leadership, from the Customer.  I think the trouble is for too long people in this field have been the cogs in the wheel.  The challenge to this is the cogs did not let the industrialist know what was broken or how to fix it.  They did what they needed to do.  In some cases the industrialist did not even care it was broken, at least until the bottom line was impacted.  Of course many time it was too late at that point.
So back to the question, is it a shift in fundamentals?  No, but it is a return to a more simpler time when Customer Service was really about helping Customers.  Novel idea!

As I am sitting here preparing for my keynote at the Call Center Summit in Orlando I keep thinking about this question.  I have seen a fascination with social media uses by companies, and a quest for the best possible direction for them to take.  In the past year I have seen more and more companies come to the realization that a key aspect for social media is service related.  I applaud them for coming to this realization, but I have to wonder why it has taken so long.

So is social media a fundamental shift in the way your organization handles Customer Service?  Is it a shift in your own mind regarding Customer Service?  If it is, I hope you are not in the Customer Service field.  I am sitting here wondering why companies and individuals feel this way.  Isn’t the most basic building block of Customer Service helping those in need?  I think we have forgotten this most basic tenet of Customer Service.  Today I will be asking the audience why they like this field and how they are leading the organization from a Customer Service perspective.

Yesterday I picked up Seth Godin’s new book “Linchpin: Are you Indispensable.”  I was shocked to see the kind mention I received (Thank you Seth!).  As I started to read it I thought “oh no, now we are going to have chaos as people strive to become artists. ”  But as I read on I started to see what Seth has always known.  Today’s work environment is still the same as it was during the industrial age.  We are cogs in this wheel of life, and there are very few that break through this mold to become Linchpins.  Since you have not read it yet (and I recommend you do), you can think of the leadership as the industrialist and the rest as factory workers doing a process.  The Linchpin is the factory worker who steps in and redefines the organization, product or process.  Today we some may view the Linchpin as a trouble maker or someone stirring the pot, but as Seth points out they are more the visionary or artist drawing and shaping the future.  

What does Linchpin have to do with Customer Service?  Everything.  In many organizations Customer Service is the true representation of the factory worker.  Every answer scripted, step by step process during every call.  Rigid structure with talk time, handle time, schedule adherence, script adherence, and the list goes on and on and on.  There was a time when this was not as true.  We did not make the job a process but an opportunity for this factory worker to build a relationship, take ownership and in shocking news, help the Customer.  As we built Customer Service into this machine, we further distanced the bourgeoisie, I mean company leadership, from the Customer.  I think the trouble is for too long people in this field have been the cogs in the wheel.  The challenge to this is the cogs did not let the industrialist know what was broken or how to fix it.  They did what they needed to do.  In some cases the industrialist did not even care it was broken, at least until the bottom line was impacted.  Of course many times it was too late at that point.

So back to the question, is social media a fundamental shift for Customer Service?  If your answer is yes, than that is a sign that you need to relook at your service organization’s goals.  Customer service number one focus must be helping the Customer first and foremost.  Novel idea!

If you have the chance join us on Thursday, January 28 for the Social Media Today webinar “The Future of Customer Service is Here

A Rewarding Experience?

Posted on : 26-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

Tags: ,

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So I am writing this post at about 35,000 feet on my way to Orlando for a Customer Service conference.   The post is about my Air Tran experience leading to this flight.  As many of you know I have done a lot of travel, but this is only my 3rd flight on Air Tran.  The reason I selected this flight was convenience, but more important to me was the available wifi.  All Air Tran flights have wifi (for a fee),   If you have not used it, you should.  It is amazing how fast the flight seems to go by.  So as I went to check in last night, like many airlines, I was prompted to sign up for the rewards.  Seemed to be a good idea since I love their wifi, I could fly them more.  I clicked on the button and signed up.  It was an easy process to sign up but inputting my new A+ Rewards number was another story.  I tried numerous times, with the same result each time, the rewards number was listed as invalid.  It was a frustrating web experience.  So I finally gave up and checked in without the number.  I then completed their email form for adding reward points.  In the email I informed them of the trouble and asking them to credit the mileage.   Since I like to focus on Customer Service, I had to share the response I received:

Status of Missing Credits Request

We have reviewed your request for missing credits and, unfortunately, we are unable to credit your account for the following flight(s) you requested, with the reason as noted:

0629

You will need to contact our Aplus rewards department at 888-327-5878 regarding this. Thanks.

For frequently asked questions about A+ Rewards, please visit aplusrewards.com. For reservations, book online at airtran.com. Or call us at 1-800-AIR-TRAN.

Thank you for choosing AirTran Airways.
We look forward to seeing you onboard again soon.


Earn free travel faster by applying for the AirTran Airways A+ Visa Card at airtranvisa.com or call 1-877-523-0989. Be sure to provide your member number when applying.Save with low AirTran Airways rates on Hertz rentals. Book through the Hertz link at airtran.com or call 1-800-AIR-TRAN, ask to be transferred to Hertz and use CDP#1259680. 

 

So they ask you to fill a form out, which I do.  In the form I am very clear about the difficulty I had with the website and then I receive a response that tells me it was declined for reason stated, with nothing stated.  The email also refers me to call the reward department.  I am not sure anything would be said differently on the phone than my prior message .  To me it is just an inconvenience.  For all I know the reason could have been because the points were already applied, but I did log in and so far no points listed.  It may also be because the flight did not happen at the time, which I would be happy to resubmit.  The trouble is this email left me with the feeling that the only regard the company had for me was selling me a Hertz car rental or a Visa card.  I would have preferred the reason for the decline.  From the company perspective, they are telling me to call for something that should not require dialogue, security or other back and forth conversation.  The phone is also the most expensive communication channel.  Now does that makes good business sense!

As for the flight, still love wifi, so thanks Air Tran for that!  The flight is relatively empty and the flight crew have been great so far.

Is Your Customer Service World Class?

Posted on : 19-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

2

Over the past several months I have done a lot of soul searching of where I am headed.  I have had a unique time over the past few years and it does cause me to wonder where I am going.  Each week I have had the opportunity to guide many companies regarding Customer Service and social media.  This week alone I will have conversations with representatives from around the world, including places like Russia, Canada, England, and, of course, the US.  Besides these 1 on 1 opportunities, I do speak at a number of Customer Service events, including the Call Center Summit next week in Orlando.  I will also be part of the Social Media Today webinar, “The Future of Customer Service is Here” with Brent Leary, Michael Chui, and Mark Yolton.  I am so privileged to have the opportunity to guide so many well respected companies.  One of the decisions I have made is that my career will be guided by Customer Service over social media.  To me, social media is a part of a Customer Service strategy, but there are many components to becoming world class.  It is now my goal to not only change the views of companies regarding social media, but in the process to change the level of Customer Service all companies provide.  If you are looking to create a world class Customer Service organization, here are some thoughts to help you along the way.

The first key step is how close is the leadership team to the Customer?  There are many ways to accomplish this.  You could establish a C-Suite level position of Chief Customer Officer, something I am a strong advocate of, but there is much more to it.   How effective is your leadership team at listening to the Customer and employees of all levels?  This is an area many companies pride themselves on, but truthfully much of what they hear is smoke and mirrors, I have seen it for a long time.  A few years back I worked at a credit card bank, and the CEO was getting much more involved in the overall Customer experience.  He would have weekly meetings with many leaders of the organization, and one of the goals was to listen to calls.  My boss at the time would have us listen to 100′s of calls looking for the perfect call to share.  This of course sent the message that all was well.  I have seen it numerous times, not just with calls, but in many times data too.  People like to share the good work they are doing, especially when they have the opportunity to connect with the most senior leaders of the company.  Of course this message tends to back fire as it creates a false sense of security for the leaders, and they do not know the impact their decisions have on the Customer.  While at that Company change came fast and furious once we started to share the reality.  If you ever hear me talk about sharing the Customer story, well the reason behind my strong opinion on this does not come from social media, but rather what we accomplished at my prior company.

Social media is helping to flatten the organization, and that is very helpful for keeping leaders connected, but has your company embraced internal uses of social media?  One of the keys of being a world class Customer Service organization is providing employees that are connected directly with the Customer access to share what they are hearing with the right decision makers.  Some companies have referred to this as a voice of the Customer process, but ultimately it is providing employees the empowerment to share what is working, what is not, and the needs of their Customer.  Of course it is not just providing this information, but it is really the actions of the leadership team regarding this data source.  It has to be part of the overall thinking of the organization.

The biggest opportunity is the way Customer Service agents are measured.  So many people believe productivity means average handle time or talk time.  How would you feel if someone was behind you with a stop watch all day?  I bet I would find some inefficiencies, of course you would really begin to hate your job too.  I know many in the service world have this unsubstantiated fear that removing this as a measurement would lead to higher costs.  I have found the opposite to be true.  When we experimented at the bank we found handle time went up 20 seconds for 2 months, then returned to normal.  At the same time Customer and employee satisfaction increased dramatically and repeat calls went down significantly.  This tends to have cost benefits.  It is important to remember that a Customer does not like being on a call longer than necessary.  Another typical measurement is call quality, some arbitrary person saying how bad you are at your job.  While I was at the bank I worked for the VP as the manager of quality and Customer satisfaction.  I tend to know a little about this area.  First who is the best person to measure handle time or quality?  The fact is that person is not in your call center, but rather the person calling.  The Customer does not want a long call, they just want to be helped.  They also know if the person met their needs or not.  I am a big supporter of Customer surveys to rate performance.  I do not believe it should be done immediately following the call because it is possible the Customer may not know if the situation is resolved, but within a day or two it can be perfect.  Email makes this very feasible and a great way to follow up with the Customer.  I am still a fan of listening to calls, but it is not about a score, but rather grading the organization or the center.  For the agent, listening can be focused on behaviors and helping the supervisor better coach to help the agent improve.  Other measurements that do make sense are schedule adherence, because it is important to have staff available when a Customer calls.  Finally measuring repeat calls is a strong financial measurement that also has dramatic impact on Customer satisfaction.

You will notice I did not mention sales.  I think sales are important, but only when you actually resolved the reason for the call and when the sale makes sense in an effort to meet the Customers needs.  I think this can easily be done with financial incentives with the caveat and coaching to make the first priority resolving the reason for the call.  I also did not get into outsourcing, which is a topic that can be very divisive.  There are times that outsourcing makes complete business sense, but the key is to treat them in the same manner your own staff.  They need to have similar measurements and the capabilities to share the voice of the Customers they interact with.

For those that say companies need to change their culture and create a great experience through all contact channels, I want you to know I agree.  Together, we are going to change the Customer Service world and help many companies create world class experiences for their Customers.  I am looking forward to that day!

Customer Service as the New Marketing?

Posted on : 14-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Marketing, Social Media

2

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK. - Don Draper, Mad Men Season 1 Episode 1

Today advertising is not creating that happiness, it is relationships and connections we have with others.  Messages no longer come from the company, but instead from friends, family and people we have never met.  How will a company work to get their message through?

I am always thinking about Customer Service and what it will look like as we move forward.  It is interesting to see how the economy alone has started to shift thinking at many companies.  Have you seen the latest Chase Sapphire commercial?

Now I know credit card companies are not really known for service, especially due to the negative risk based decision we know they make.  At the same time I used to work in that business and at the time companies were looking at ways to differentiate themselves using Customer Service.  This commercial reminded me of the efforts we made at my prior company, at least prior to the shift in the economy (and the company going bankrupt).  Now Chase is creating a product to try to meet the new demands of Customers regarding service.  I am sure many of you are tired of the automated answering systems, well as this ad points out, for this product when you call you get a real life person.  I did try a different Chase card, and with that number I still receive the automated answering.

I have discussed previously that we are entering a different time in Customer relations, and the control has shifted to the Customer.  Since the 1950′s marketing has been king, the message was dictated by the company through ads, especially in TV.  “Mad Men” told us what we like and how we like it.  The right advertisement did it all, even if the product was not up to par.  But then came Amazon, and other websites like it.  Today a product comes out and almost immediately reviews start to pile in on websites.  This completely changed how people buy virtually any product.  I know for myself, I could be in a store and before buying I will go to Amazon and read reviews, as well as Google the item to find other reviews.

So what does Amazon reviews have to do with Customer Service?  Well a lot!  It is part of an overall picture that has been painted over a number of years.  Marketing was king, but now the Customer is king and companies have to learn the best ways to deal with that.  For a long time, if you lost a Customer, strong marketing would bring in 10 others in their place.  But today you lose a Customer they have the ability to easily tell thousands.  Customers have grown tired of not being able to be serviced the first time, and by banning together through social networking, their word of mouth will force companies to rethink the cost reductions done in service over the past 20 years.  There will be a true ROI for providing best in class service.

Maybe in 45 years we will see a retro show about the Customer Service leaders?  Probably not, that would be very boring.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Just Make Lemonade!

Posted on : 11-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Inspirational, Living in Philadelphia

Tags: , ,

1

“There is a lesson to be learned from the Lemonade Girl with the pretty blue eyes and hair that once curled.  You see, Alex lived by the words from which her foundation was laid…when life gives you lemons, just make lemonade”
Alex and the Amazing Lemonade Stand
Written by Liz and Jay Scott with help from Alex Scott

I know all to well how life throws various things at you, and somehow we live through it.  This past Saturday I had the privilege to attend the Alex’s Lemonade Foundation 2010 Lemon Ball.  I am not going to say I did not have mixed emotions, I knew, just like everyday, I would think about our Angel Gia.  I also knew we would relive some moments in life that at time we would love to forget.  At the same time we love the cause and we wanted to learn more about it.  The event was filled with various life changing stories that hit close to home for us.  Over the years I have been a part of many charity events, but none could ever measure up to the beauty, energy, and inspiration radiated throughout the Lemon Ball.  I know that may sound odd for a charity dedicated to a cause like pediatric cancer, a cause all too close to my heart.  Walking into the hotel you were immediately greeted by kids at a lemonade stand happily offering a cold drink or guide you through the hotel to the event.  Upon arrival you were greeted by more high energy volunteers happy to help get you in the spirit of the evening.  The yellow gowns and accessories made the room shine as if it were the brightest of days.

I love when companies encourage employees to participate in charitable events.  I work for one such company with our Comcast Cares Day.  My wife also works for a company that values this way to give back to the community they serve.  The company, Reed Technology, part of LexisNexis and Reed Elsevier, encourages every employee to take 2 days a year days to volunteer for a non-profit organization, while still being paid for the day by the company.   During this incredible evening, I learned the story of another Reed Technology employee, Bea Quindlen.   It was such a surprise to see someone my wife knew being honored as the Volunteer of the Year.  Bea’s story is not what you would expect for a charity like this.  She did not have a child with cancer, and I do not believe she was connected to one.  She volunteered through her work to participate in a local telethon for the Alex’s Lemonade Foundation.  She left the event so inspired, that she became a regular volunteer.  Stopping by the office weekly to help out, bringing homemade snacks to keep Jay energized (Jay, since you will be reading it I did hear about the Krimpets, I think I could win!  Sorry, inside joke).   Bea connected with Jay, Liz and all the other families and friends in this battle.  She dedicates so much of her personal time to help others.  I just met Bea for the first time on Saturday, and she is not the type to want to be honored, in fact she was so shy in even accepting the award.  Her goal was simply to do good things for a foundation made of good people that she cared for.  A lesson that is so important for businesses and non-profit groups alike, inspiring positive people influences and energizes so many around them.  Bea, thank you for being such a positive influence!

The evening started with a girls dance troop performing to some current hits.  They did great, but don’t ask me to name the songs (not really my music!).  This was followed by a special performance by American Idol and recording star Jordin Sparks.   Jordin was looking much more mature than I remember from American Idol and despite not being her standard performing stage she shared a song close to her heart.  She followed this with unique words, that would ring to be true, “Let’s get this party started.”  And with those words she sung a much faster paced song and encouraged everyone to get  up and dance.  She literally disappeared on the dance floor as so many joined her.  It was a sight to see.

As is typical in events like this, during the meal you heard from others about the work of the foundation, childhood cancer, and the plans for the organization.  There was no overwhelming request for money, or creating a sense of desperation.  The event was much more a celebration of the foundation and the life of Alex and so many others that have dealt with pediatric cancer.   We were sitting with other families that have personally experienced childhood cancer.  It may sound odd to those that have not dealt with it, but we have found it much easier to connect with families that have been through some of these life experiences.  There is a stronger bond shared than most other friendships could ever hope to have.   It was nice to share that time with them.

The true inspiration for this evening was hearing from Liz and Jay Scott.  I have said it before: Liz, Jay and Alex Scott are my heroes.  This evening just reinforced all the reasons why.  Liz and Jay did not seek the limelight or to even a foundation to do so much good.  I think they simply wanted a good life for their family.  But life throws you those curve ball sometimes, and you do what you think is best.  In this case Alex was diagnosed with cancer, her parents, to achieve the best possible care, moved the family to Philadelphia so they could go to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  Alex started a lemonade stand to raise money “to help ALL kids get better.”  All of a sudden, the Alex’s Lemonade Foundation was born, and Liz and Jay would see a new path in their life.  What was interesting about their talk, they really did not talk about any of this, they spoke more about other families and the researchers for the foundation.  They were just so grateful for everyone around them.  Their spirit, which is the same spirit of Alex, is what attracts so many people to love this cause.   Although I have met Jay before, that night was the first time I had the pleasure to meet Liz.  The moment I felt a connection to her was the she tried to answer the question that gets asked all too often, does it get easier as time goes by.   This is something that every parent who has lost a child struggles with, but you would be surprised how often it comes up.   Liz tried to be tactful in her response saying in some ways it does get better as time goes by, but it is difficult as your realize all that is missed.  I can tell you as a parent who lost a child, not a day goes by that you do not miss the child you lost.  You are happy to share in the lives of your other children and family, but there is a hole that is not filled.   You still experience many of the highs in life but there are moments that are very difficult.  She did not say all that.  I can understand that.  The overall event was upbeat, but I do not think it is within their style to focus on themselves.  To them it is about Alex, and what she wanted – helping other kids.  Kudos to Liz and Jay on a job well done!

The evening was followed by the live auction, with 1 item I could only wish to afford.  Liz makes special lemon cookies, this year  she made 14 because Alex would have turned 14 on January 18.  The cookies sold for $14,000.  Wow!

Key to the evening was truly just having a good time, and that was what was all about.  The party got started and dancing took over for a night filled with all the energy of Alex’s amazing lemonade.  The whole event was perfect down to every little detail.  The sponsors were class acts, especially with Mike and Ike’s presenting Jordin Sparks and Volvo having the car giveaway (purchase ticket for the drawing here).  Now as Alex’s Lemonade Foundation embarks on its goal to raise $100 million over the next decade, Liz and Jay should know that they have done is priceless in the minds of all parents that are part of this same fight.

Visit Alex’s Lemonade to Learn More About this Cause

Tell A Story of Widgets and Whatchamacallits

Posted on : 05-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

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I have been lucky to watch a lot of positive change at different companies.  Just to play a small part in that change can be very exciting, but it got me thinking: what generates change?  For years businesses have concentrated on data and numbers.  For most businesses the most important number is the bottom line.  I am not opposed to numbers, and I recognize for a company to survive the bottom line is extremely important.  This concentration on the numbers, sometimes has had an unintentional impact on the actual Customer experience.  Trust me, every leader I have ever worked with has understood the benefits of a long term Customer relationship, and they never intended to create a negative experience.  There are cultural barriers in business that have been created over the years, not just due to numbers, but in some cases the culture of generations ago.  No one ever wants to pass bad news up the chain of command.  Don’t you feel bad for the person bringing in a surprise for a quarterly with bad numbers?  Now that is a job I would never want!  In many companies the culture has not been to opt not to share bad information, or say no to something.  Sometimes they just sugar coat bad news.  The gen Y, or millennial generation is helping to change that because they do not play by those rules.

So here is what I think happens:

The CEO and other top leaders are reviewing the company quarterly reports.  The conversation is rather lengthy.  Early in the conversation the CEO says we really need to improve profit margins.  Later during that same conversation he notices that widgets have very nice profit margins.  This rightfully gets translated into we need to sell more widgets.  This makes its way through various leaders and now everyone is concentrated on selling widgets.  Marketing is placing widgets everywhere on the website.  Customer service was now asked to sell more widgets, which eventually translated to the supervisors and agents that they must sell widgets on every call.  The Customer is now being bombarded with offers for the widget everywhere they turn.  So even if they only need a Whatchamacallit, they were told they need a widget to go with it.  One of the Customer Service agents knows there is a problem with the widgets, and they have a high return rate.  The agent tells his supervisor that these widgets “suck”, but the supervisor does not recognize it as a problem and  fails to share with others.  Maybe the supervisor just didn’t want to listen!  It is not until further analysis of the numbers that this information turns up.  During this sales effort they also alienated Customers because they did not know they needed the widget, but finally gave in and purchased it.  They then returned it to only find the trouble with the next widget.  Now the Customer lost trust in the company.

Now, lets imagine instead of stating that the widgets “suck” the agent turned to the supervisor and said:

I would like to share the story of Sally.  Sally called looking for Whatchamacallit but instead we sold her Widgets that she did not need.  Sally had to wait a week to receive the Widgets, but when they finally arrived they were broken.  She then called us back and we sent a pick up authorization, which did not come to her until a week later.  She then returned the Widgets and we mailed her new Widgets, which were broken again.  So she just called for a new return authorization, so I tried to offer her a Whatchamacallit to help get her doohicky to fully work.  She told me forget about it, she is just getting a Whatchamacallit from Walmart because we just can’t get it right.  Sally was very frustrated with us.

Imagine this story made it to the CEO.  They probably didn’t intend to create this negative experience for Sally, and if they heard about it, they too would be as upset as Sally.  Connecting to Customers through stories are the real driver for change.  Stories come through on calls, emails, and through social media.

Your story could impact the bottom line!