Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Now The Game Starts Again

I am sure that many readers of this blog are, like me, subscribers to Bloomberg Businessweek. For those who might not be, you might want to pick up a copy of the December 20, 2010 - January 2, 2011 Year in Review edition. Pretty interesting stuff presented in a very different and creative way.

It is filled with lots of data much of it leaving the reader wondering as many of us felt before confronted with contents - what will 2011 bring?

It seems that for every piece of "good news" there is a balancing piece of "bad news." For example, we are told that in 2010, "the U.S. added 937,000 jobs."

While not super, wow, terrific, at least it's a better number than losing a like amount. At least it feels that way until it is followed by the fact that
"...Foxconn, the Taiwan-based maker of nearly every consumer electronic product you wanted this year, added 300,000."  And sports fans, in case you missed it, one is a country the other a company!
And the opening piece goes on to say in part:
"Fueled by gold, copper and coal, the most robust currency of the year against the dollar was the Mongolian tugrik." "In India, competition for deals has become so intense that billionaire Ravi Ruia is branching out to Africa - buying coal mines in Mozambique and a Kenyan oil refinery. Competition is one of the pleasures of business and one of the foundations of America."
"That right hasn't been rescinded - it's been extended to people around the world. In a way, we've won. Now the game starts again."
As I read through the issue, my thoughts kept going back to the foregoing line which somehow struck me as very powerful and profound even though the thought was hardly new.
"That right hasn't been rescinded - it's been extended to people around the world. In a way, we've won.  Now the game starts again."

The term "globalization" has long since become part of our daily business lexicon, and if you listen to many of those described as "thought leaders" they all seem to applaud the changes and talk of the opportunities represented by the evolving global markets. For those who can innovate, the future looks very bright indeed.

Said a bit differently, Bloomberg Businessweek said it this way:"Capitalism lives off of change."

What it didn't say, but is clearly implicit in that truth is that those same "thought leaders" also point out that unless the U.S. can maintain its leadership position when it comes to innovation, which is what really drives "change," our role as the economic engine of the world will be lost. Indeed, it doesn't take a lot of research to find lots of folks who think that this has already happened, but we either haven't noticed it yet or are simply in denial.

It would seem that there is more doom and gloom on this subject than those who think the pessimists wrong. After all, it is the bad stuff that "sells" so finding an abundance of those who think "it's all over but the shouting" isn't surprising.

For sure only time will tell if as a country we are up to the challenge.

As for me, and maybe it's just the hopefulness, excitement and optimism of a new year, but no matter what the challenge, I would rather be in the USA than anywhere else in an effort to meet it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Customer Service Surprises - Maybe There's Hope

They keep telling us that we are up to our necks in a service economy. I don’t know about you, but it seems like with the advent of the "net" the world has been turned on its ear. It wasn’t too long ago that I traded at those bricks and mortar stores based on how I felt I was treated as a customer. That was then and this is now. Now it seems you walk into a store and you feel like you should go buy a lottery ticket when you even find a sales clerk, much less someone who knows how to say "customer service."

The other side of the world used to be, and still is on many sites, that you considered it a major coup to get any email responded to much less the answer to your question or issue.

It could well be that I am obsessive on this subject because we feel our company lives and dies on customer service. This whole concept was one of the prime reasons when we started ExecuNet that a key driving principle was that this was a "membership" not a subscription.

To give you and idea of just how obsessive we were about it, even though we went online in 1995, it still took me a couple of years before I relented and said it was okay to allow people to join online without having to talk with us first. People thought I was nuts, but I was adamant about the fact that while we were indeed a for profit enterprise, this was to be an enterprise built on relationships not transactions.

I am not embarrassed to say that it remains a great source of pride here at galactic headquarters that the vast majority of people who choose to join ExecuNet still come to us by referral from current or former members, and we’ve been at this for 23 years.

In any case, back to the customer service world: Not sure what your experience has been but in recent months it starts to feel like maybe we’re starting to "get it" again, and what really blew me away was where I saw this taking place. I offer up two experiences:

When I finally woke up to the fact that I had not signed up for social security (I was eligible in April), and it never dawned on me until November – talk about not feeling your age!) I picked up the phone with more trepidation than you can imagine. I was fully prepared for a real life experience that if it wasn’t so painful could easily be on Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart.

But check this out: From the time I got to a real person (which I admit took a bit of doing going through the phone tree, but was not impossible) I thought I was either dreaming or had the wrong number. I could not have been treated any better if I were a season ticket holder at Neiman Marcus. "Would you like to make an appointment to come to the office, or would you prefer to handle it via a phone appointment and we’ll call you at your office?" Whoa! You mean I don’t have come to you? That practically sounded like an offer to make a house call and I thought that had gone out with high button shoes! Bottom line from that first call until my first check arrived was crisp, professional, and very "user friendly."

My next move was on to Medicare, and while the phone trees there started to feel a bit like an old Bob Newhart routine, whenever I spoke with someone, which given my lack of skill in following any sort of instruction written or verbal, was fairly frequently, I had a similar feeling ~ wow, maybe my tax dollars really had been working – at least they had been working on providing some really good customer service training in places where I fully expected it to be more like a cross between a root canal and my first visit to the DMV before they too seemed to have gotten their act together.

The second and almost equally mind blowing experience was when my wife decided she was so frustrated with AOL that she wanted to shift to Verizon since we already were on Verizon for our cell phones and house phones. I entered this task fearing the worst as well. I was even more worried than with my dealings with the SSA in that this involved the need for me to have some semblance of understanding of the tech side of cyber space. Not a good sign at all given that the extent of my tech skills pretty much begin and end with my TV remote, and she takes that away from me so often that if they offered remedial training for it I would likely sign up.

Bottom line again: There was not a single person I spoke with over the course of a few days when I had time to deal with all of this who was not as courteous and understanding and responsive as they could be, and this included explaining our phone bills as well as walking (with me it was actually crawling) through the install process.

My belief has always been that there are at least two key truths about a business relationship:

1. All of us will always be willing to pay a premium for a quality product or service, and

2. If I am treated as a valued customer, I will remain loyal to the product or service almost no matter what.

The "loyalty" contract may be dead from a careers perspective (that’s a whole other subject) but my desire as a person to be able to demonstrate my loyalty is still a pretty big motivator for me.

I am loyal when I am recognized for who I am, and when I get customer service as in these two unexpected cases I have cited here, it gives me some hope that as a business community all is not lost.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Don't chase, hunt.

I don't know about you, but based on my own experience as well as talking and listening to ExecuNet members over the years, people spend a heck of a lot of their time reacting as opposed to 'proacting'. Worse, by the time we realize that there is something to react to, we rush into an "action" mode before really thinking through what we want to do, why we want to do it, and how we want to do it. We seem overly focused on doing something NOW.

When it comes to making a career change, however, be that change being driven by a 'we want to' or a 'we have to', we tend to follow similar patterns and react in the same mode and start running around doing things before stepping back and getting things organized.

Said differently, we want this "fixed" and "fast." Understandable for sure, but not without its pitfalls, chief among which can be a shotgun approach to the marketplace.

It is so easy. Login and launch your resume around the world and wait for the phone to ring and the emails to pour into your inbox. In truth, some people actually do end up with some interviews and job offers as a result, but if you were a betting person, this avenue would not be where you would bet the ranch.

So what's a better use of your time? Answer: Look for opportunities that allow you to bring the expertise you have to help solve problems about which you really care.

Obviously only you know what qualifies as "really care" but of this you can be sure. There are plenty of organizations, for profit and otherwise who are working every day to deliver products and/or services that deal with things about which you "really care" and finding them is not as hard as you might think, especially with the wonders of the Internet.

And here's one other key item to consider in the "hunt" - if you don't see things in the present, then look to what's coming down the road and focus on bringing your expertise and passion to those organizations who are already in the process of addressing the needs of emerging issues and opportunitites.

Need some help in getting your imagination started as to what some of thesse things might be?  The resources are so many your challenge might be to limit how many you are going to look to so that you actually have the time to build on the ideas that come out of your reading and research.

Here's one for starters: It is a site called and they describe themselves as " independent and opinionated trend firm, scanning the globe for the most promising consumer trends, insights and related hands-on business ideas."  It is, in my view, a very apt description.

And, since we are only days away, and you want to get a running start at 2011, check out their December briefing called 11 Crucial Consumer Trends  for 2011Just what you find there might be sufficient to help you begin to connect the dots to a place where you'll find the personal and professional satisfaction to which we all aspire.