The Horse Sense Blog compares the nonsense in today's news with good ol' fashioned horse sense

“…I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.… It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.” - Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

"The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it." - George Orwell

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who is Brian McGee?

So, here I am trying to deal with a banking problem.  I’ve called customer service and after going through what seems like a hundred million different prompts I finally give up and just keep dialing “0” multiple times every time it asks me to make a choice.  After it repeatedly tried to get me to answer with the “correct” answer (that’s “correct” as defined by the computer, the bank, or some weasel in their IT Department that just thinks this is all too funny) I finally score a small victory when the computer gives up and says it’s going to transfer me to a human. 

So I wait.  After what seems like another eternity the phone picks up with a voice saying, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, my name is Brian McGee, blah, blah, blah.”  The reason I’m saying that he says “blah” so many times is that by this time I’ve pretty much tuned out anything that anyone at this bank has to say.  However, what does catch my attention is when he says his name is Brian McGee.  Why does this catch my attention?  Very simply, because this Brian McGee has an Indian accent. 

Now I know that Great Britain has had an enormous influence in the world.  And I know that sometimes foreign influence can have a major impact on the culture of a country elsewhere in the world.  Just spend a little time in Tokyo and tell me that America hasn’t had an influence on their country. 

But back to the case at hand. I also know that the names “Brian” and “McGee” are probably two of the most desired names for people outside Ireland.  Okay, I don’t know that but given what’s happening at this moment in the conversation I’m telling you about it does cross my mind.  What I’m hearing is this man with an Indian accent telling me he’s Brian McGee.  All I can figure is that his parents were so impressed by those names that they named their child Brian and changed their last name to McGee so that their offspring would benefit from that name.  Of course I could be wrong.  Brian himself may have changed his last name.  

Regardless, what I am positive about is that no major banking institution in America would possibly send their customer service calls to another country and then condone the people in that country trying to pretend they are from western society.  Certainly no executive would want to use misrepresentation as the basis to start a relationship with a customer who calls for service.  That couldn’t possibly happen…. Or could it?

If all this makes you think of those television commercials where the guy with the Slavic accent answers the customer service phone and tells the customer his name is Peggy, then you’re understanding what I encountered.

What kind of idiot in management allows this kind of thing?  Who thinks that a customer is going to believe it, let alone feel they can trust an institution that would allow this kind of dishonesty?  If you start a relationship on deception it has no place to go but down.

It doesn’t work in your personal life, why would it work in business?  Businesses who hire someone who they later find out to not be who they claimed to be will fire the individual.  Why?  Because they cannot trust them.  Trust is essential to building a long lasting and beneficial relationship. 

If you want to have long lasting relationships with repeat business from your customers you need to build your relationship with honesty.  If you want to have referrals from your customers to other customers you have to build your relationship with honesty.  Trust is built with honesty.  That’s why the garbage that some call salesmanship that’s being purported by so many big name sales trainers and managers today is nothing short of destructive.  Sure, dishonesty might make a quick sale.  It might make you a quick buck, but it won’t keep bringing them back for more. 

If you want to build your business for the long term, you can’t be Brian McGee.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apple is on the verge of overtaking Exxon Mobil as the world's most valuable company. How can this help your business?

Today Bloomberg reported that Apple stock, having passed $400 a weeks ago, is now gaining ground on Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the world’s most valuable company.  That’s quite a distinction for a company that at one point was holding on for their lives.  What are they doing to make their company worth so much?

Well, first let me say that there are a myriad of articles discussing why Apple is so successful.  And many of them can probably do a far better job than I can with all the technical product analysis that they do.  But I want to talk about something much simpler here.  I want to talk about what it’s like to be an Apple customer.

For decades I’ve owned computers.  I started with PCs because I felt it was impossible to survive in business without something that was IBM-compatible, as they used to say in the old days.  And as the years went by I knew a few people with Apple’s, but they always seemed to be either people working in science-related areas or the arts.  Businesspeople never owned anything that wasn’t IBM-compatible if they wanted to communicate with other businesspeople.  And while I never became highly knowledgeable regarding computers, I was able to find my way around pretty efficiently with my PCs. 

But all the while I owned PCs I always would hear Apple owners talk about how wonderful their computers were.  It was like a cult following that these products had.  It seemed to me to be almost like blind allegiance.  Yet over those years I had my share of problems with computers and would often hear techs say that that’s just the way PCs are and they’d mostly blame it on Microsoft.  Eventually as I watched computer after computer crash and have to go through a recovery process I started to think like they did.  It MUST be Microsoft’s fault I would think, even though I really had nothing to base it on.  But last year I was at a point of total frustration with Windows Vista.  Then my laptop burned up and I knew it was time for a new machine. 

I ended up buying two machines.  I didn’t need a laptop very often so I decided to buy a moderate little PC with Windows 7 and then buy a desktop computer for my office.  And I decided that it was time to try an Apple and see if they really were all they were cracked up to be.

I use both computers regularly and have to say that I do like Windows 7.  But even though I like it, nothing compares to the Apple and their OS X operating system.  And what really tops it all off is the service.  I can call with the simplest of questions and they’re always ready to help.  Try getting virtually any company selling software for a PC to give you help like you get with an Apple.  It’s hard to find.

I didn’t buy it through Apple, but one of the things I purchased for the Apple was a program called Parallels.  It allows me to set up a virtual machine on my Apple and run a complete Windows system side by side with my Apple system.  I can drag and drop from one system to the other, with both operating systems working side-by-side.  As I use Windows 7 next to Apple’s OS X I see firsthand the differences.  And I have to say that as I’ve owned it I use the Apple’s programs more and more.  It is a wonderful machine and software.

But the Parallels software was a problem at first.  I got it and couldn’t get it set up correctly.  It didn’t run well.  The features didn’t all install correctly and the company wouldn’t help me without charging me.  Now I realize that many software companies charge for support, but I personally think that they should at least help you get up and running correctly at no cost before they do that.  I found that I didn’t use the program very much for many months because of that.  Later they told me I was supposed to get 30 days of free support, but during that time they wouldn’t give it to me and later they said it was too late.  Talk about frustrating a customer!

Then recently I had a question about some Apple software and contacted Apple.  As I talked to the rep, who was extremely helpful, I got the usual friendly, well trained expertise that is so refreshing.  When we finished with my question she asked me if there was anything else she could help me with.  I paused and said, “I didn’t buy it from you, although I now see you do sell it in the Apple store, but maybe you can give me some advice.”  And then I told her about the problem I was having with Parallels and not being able to get it running correctly from day one.  I told her Parallels wanted me to pay for service just to get it set up and I thought that was ridiculous.  I asked her if she could tell me what to do about it.  To my surprise she discussed the problem with me and gave me an idea for a solution to the problem.  She didn’t give me an idea of who to contact at Parallels or how to deal with them.  Rather, she gave me an idea of how to fix the problem (clearly she was familiar with the program).  I was pleasantly surprised.  She had no obligation to help and I didn’t expect it, but she helped anyway.  And the advice she gave worked and now the program works properly.

Apple’s technical personnel went above and beyond to help me because they see me as a customer with a problem that needs help.  They could have said it wasn’t their problem, but they were willing to try.  Just for the effort they deserve an A+.  The fact that it worked is an even bigger benefit. 

The best companies look for ways to help customers.  Having now owned this Apple computer for a little while I have to say that I am very sold on both the product and the company. I understand how they got their following and why customers are so loyal. 

Are you looking for ways to help your customers or just doing the minimum that’s required?  The difference will make a customer into a loyal follower.  The difference will make you a survivor in business.  The difference makes businesses thrive.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Embrace, don't alienate your largest potential market!

If you were trying to land the largest account in the history of your business would you insult them?  Would you irritate or alienate the prospective customer with the largest buying power you can find?  Let’s put it another way.  If you were single and met the potential mate of your dreams would you do everything in your power to make sure you came across as obnoxious and more interested in yourself than you were in them?

While I hope you wouldn’t intentionally answer “yes” to any of those questions, the fact is that many businesses today do answer with a resounding yes by the way they present themselves to potential customers.

In my last post I pointed out that the baby boomer generation was the largest potential customer base for most businesses.  Yet for some reason most (not some, but most) businesses do a great job of alienating them.  In fact, without even knowing it the message most businesses send to baby boomers is that they really don’t want their business.

Now as a business owner, manager, service or salesperson this may surprise you.  But the fact is that it’s true.  The reasons are really quite obvious, but like so many things sometimes we’re too close to it to see it so we need someone else to point it out to us.

As we age things change.  And some of the things that change are our physical abilities.  For some it will mean significant changes that cause them to have special health needs.  For others it will just be the normal changes of aging that we encounter.  And these changes affect the way people buy both for themselves and for their businesses.

I’ve had excellent vision all my life.  Doctors were always amazed at how well I could see.  But as I’ve aged that’s begun to change.  I started wearing reading glasses.  I’m lucky because I only need the readers you buy at the local pharmacy, but many people need prescription glasses and have much more significant vision changes than I do.  However, I have found that both the size of print and color contrast of print to background greatly affects my ability to easily read things anymore.  I need a little more light than I used to when I read.  I find myself absolutely rejecting packaging, literature, websites, and anything else that don’t have large enough print or good contrast in their colors. 

For some reason the people who design these things don’t seem to understand they will lose me as a customer if they don’t make it comfortable and easy for me to read their packaging, websites, etc.  For example, the idea that a light colored background with light or medium colored print may be cute to some young people, but to older people it’s almost impossible to read some of it.  I’ll choose to do business with people who make it easy for me.  It is up to a business to make it as easy as possible for their customer to do business with them.  If you don’t, you will lose them.  Making things hard to see makes older customers take their business elsewhere.

Using this vision example, let me say that I’ve become so sensitive to this that I found myself doing research on it for my own website.  I learned that ophthalmologists have studied this issue and found that a dark background with light print in a good size simple font is the easiest to read.  Studies have found that black backgrounds with yellow or white print are the easiest, yellow usually being the preferred color for print.  When I learned this I tested it myself by changing the settings on my computer so everything came up in a high contrast mode.   I do a lot of reading on my computer and what amazed me was after I used my computer like this for a little while I found that I didn’t have near the amount of eye fatigue from reading.  I then changed my website and have gotten many, many positive comments from people about how much easier it is to read.

The point of all this is simple.  You have to make your business is user-friendly.  This means that communications need to be easy to use or customers will go somewhere that they can get user-friendly service.  One of the simplest things a business can do is to change things that customers have to read to be more user-friendly.  You don’t have to use a reverse color combination like I choose to do with dark background and light print, especially on literature and packaging.  But you can make sure that the contrast of your print is significant making sure it's dark on a light background and that fonts are a simple style and large enough to be easily readable.  Using a light colored background other than white can help take away some of the glare that older eyes find fatiguing to look at.  

If you own a retail business or office where customers come to see you you should make sure things are easy to navigate in your business.  If it is hard to find something or get help, then you will alienate customers.  Dark areas make it hard for people to feel comfortable and find things.  The amount of light that a younger person finds acceptable is often far from useful to an older customer. 

In recent years the big box stores have become popular.  The high ceilings with high shelves have caused a change in the way lighting works in those stores.  Companies often think that they are lighting the store just fine, but for some customers the added shadows make it very hard to read package labels and find products.  As a consultant I’m amazed how many times I find businesses that have lighting that they don’t realize makes it hard for their customers to see things well. 

If you do business by phone, are you customer-friendly?  When people call do they have to talk to a computer or a person?  If you have to use an automated system does the person at least have the option of inputting their answers via the buttons on the phone handset instead of just speaking to the computer?  The reason this is important is that most systems that you talk to rarely understand what is being said the majority of the time.  As the customer gets frustrated just trying to get some help their irritation rises.  What may have been a person with a simple question becomes an irritated customer.  What was a customer with a concern they wanted to voice becomes an angry and frustrated customer.  The additional costs to your business are tremendous when that person now has to be dealt with at much greater length because of their frustrations with your phone system.  The money you think you are saving by automating your system are often more than lost by the increased costs you incur when your staff has to spend even more time trying to deal with an upset customer.  Add to that the fact that the customer will, as a result of this frustration, often look to do business elsewhere.  The older customer often has less patience with these things than the young customer.  And I’m not talking about geriatric customers here, I’m talking about middle-aged customers. 

Remember that nothing replaces the personal, human-to-human touch in business.  I believe that one of these days someone is going to start doing studies to determine the impact of these automated phone systems on customer satisfaction and I believe businesses are in for a rude awakening.  Many will find that the customer goodwill they lose far outweighs the cost savings of these systems.  And the worst part is that the customers who react the most negatively to these systems are older customers, the ones with the most money to spend, your largest potential market.

When you do things to cater to the baby boomer generation you are catering to the largest potential market available to your business.  You are opening the door to the people with the most money of any group of potential customers your business has.  This is a simple way to increase your market potential and help your business.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Are you losing out on the largest potential market for your business?

© 2011 Doug Johnson

This is it.  My first post on my blog.  This is the one where you’re wondering what it’s going to be all about and I’m wondering what to write about that would be interesting and helpful to you.  And the answer on my side is that I’m not really sure.  Even though I write books, do public speaking, and work as a consultant and coach to business (all areas where I continually get input from people about what’s important to them as businesspeople), I still find myself wondering at times what will really reach people.   I’ve been fortunate that the things I do seem to connect well with people.  So, given that that’s been my experience, I’m going to use my instincts in this endeavor to bring you a variety of posts on many different areas that affect businesses and careers in business.  With 37 years experience in the business world I have picked up some things that have consistently proven themselves to impact business.  Those will include some posts that talk about the methods used to do various things in successful businesses, some posts that talk about current events in both the political world and other areas that impact business, and some posts regarding ethics in business and life.  You can’t effectively succeed in business if you don’t consider all of these areas so we’ll move back and forth through them as time goes by.

Are you losing out on the largest potential market for your business?

As I thought about writing this first blog post I wondered what would be a good topic to start it all off.  I kept coming back to a question that haunts me these days as a consultant.   This is a growing problem in virtually all businesses, yet few people can see it.  I’m talking about the abandonment, ignoring, offending, and alienation of the largest, most profitable, and lucrative market for most businesses.  Yet somehow they miss it and are walking away from it.

For decades we’ve been trained in business to cater to the youthful markets.  The belief is that they are the market where the future is, the market where the money is, the market you will grow with.  And in some ways that used to be true, although the idea that young people have the money is really misguided.  People don’t make their best incomes until they are older.  But for decades we’ve been told that the young market is the future. 

I’m a baby boomer and I started my first business while I was still in school.  I catered to people in my age group and realized that it was a huge market.  As the years went by and my successes grew I found that this had been a good strategy.  But today making our priority the youth market isn’t so good for most businesses.  The reason?  The youth market is shrinking.  The young don’t really have the money.  In fact, in today’s economic climate many of the young aren’t even employed any longer.  They’re either scraping by on their own or, in many cases, they’re back home living with their parents because they are unemployed.

And while the economic downturn has impacted the young markets, it isn’t the sole basis for this commentary.  The fact is that the baby boomer generation is made up of the largest number of people of any generation in living history.  Add to that that we baby boomers are now getting older and we’re in the stage of life where people tend to be the most affluent.  This is the largest potential market and its staring you right in the face.

Before I go on, let’s look at the older generation:

  • By 2015, those aged 50 and over will represent 45% of the U. S. population. (AARP)
  • Households headed by someone in the 55-64 age group had a median net worth 15 times larger than for the under 35 age group. (U. S. Census and Federal Reserve)
  • The 50+ age group have $2.4 trillion annual income, which accounts for 42% of all after-tax income.  (U. S. Consumer Expenditure Survey)
  • Adults 50 and older own 65% of the aggregate net worth of all U. S. households. (U. S. Consumer Expenditure Survey)

Now the concept that the older folks have more wealth may seem obvious, and it is. However, even those who see it are often missing some of the most important points about reaching that market.
Here’s a few more interesting tidbits:

  • ThirdAge and JWT Boom reported that 96% of baby boomers participate in word-of-mouth or viral marketing by passing product or service information on to friends.
  • One-third of internet users in the U. S. are adults aged 50+ and represent the internet’s largest constituency. (Jupiter Research)
  • 72% of baby boomers have broadband internet in their homes. (ThirdAge and JWT Boom)
  • The internet is the most important source of information for baby boomers when they make a major purchase. (Zoomerang)

What does all this mean to business?  It means that the biggest potential market for customers is also the wealthiest.  We are missing the mark if we don’t market effectively to them.  We are walking away from huge opportunity by not catering to that market.

A good example of how we can succeed or fail with this market is CBS television.  Here we have a network whose entertainment division has produced shows that cater to the baby boomer market.  Over half of the top 20 broadcast television programs are on CBS, leaving the other three networks to fight for the remaining share of the market.  This means that CBS is a very valuable advertising opportunity to companies wishing to capture their share of the baby boomer market for their products.  CBS has chosen to cater to the largest generation in history and, as a result, has an enviable position from which to market.

What’s also interesting about this is that the CBS news division does not do this.  CBS news has been at the bottom of the ratings for years.  No matter what they do they cannot get out of last place.  And the reason for this very well may be that they don’t cater to the baby boomers with their news division.  Rather, their news division is so entrenched in its ideology that it can’t offer a balanced news program.  The result is rejection by the public.  Now this is not meant to be a commentary on the politics of the news business.  Suffice it to say that by virtually any measure CBS, NBC, and ABC all base their news on their ideology and, as a result, they lose market share because the average American, especially baby boomers, tends to be more conservative.  The result is that CBS offers the most potential to advertisers with its primetime entertainment lineup, but they don’t do that with their news broadcasts.   They have made two separate choices and from a purely business standpoint it is obvious that it has paid off for their entertainment division and costs them in their news division.

So, what can we do to embrace this market of baby boomers that is available to us?  There are a number of very simple things that can be done.  I’ll address those in my next post.