Sunday, August 14, 2016

This Online Customer Experience Was Anything But Sweet

I visited an online store recently to make a purchase. The store sells sweets: brownies, cakes, and cookies. The store is also part of a large group of online stores where you can purchase everything except the moon: fruit, flowers, popcorn, muffins, steaks, cheese, caramel apples, and more. 

On this occasion, I simply wanted to purchase something called a Cookie Card, a buttercream cookie and a greeting card. I made the online purchase and provided my friend's address where I wanted the cookie card to be delivered and assumed everything was done.

About three weeks later, when I wondered if the cookie was as delicious as advertised, I asked my friend about the cookie and was surprised to learn that it had never arrived. Disappointed, since I had thought the gift was a great idea and wanted it to arrive in a timely manner, I called the online store.

The first customer service rep I spoke with was extremely rude. You would have thought I was bothering her by calling her during HER WORK DAY. She asked me to repeat my order number several times, because she was clearly not paying attention to me, the customer. Finally, she said that my order was lost. Then, she said that the specific cookie and card that I had ordered were no longer available. She asked me what I wanted to do. I had to go online while I was on the phone (I had not been near my computer or an Internet connection when I made the call) and search through other Cookie Card options. Why couldn’t the rep offer any suggestions? Additionally, even if the company had not been responsible for losing the item, where was the apology, or even better, the statement equivalent to "Let me make this right because we value your business."

I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told, “You will be given the same information.” What information? The rep had not offered to do anything to resolve the lost cookie situation. Since the standard “this call may be monitored for training purposes” had been heard before the customer service rep initially came on the line, I hoped someone would hear my request for a supervisor – that I made three times! At long last, I was transferred to another rep. I explained that my order was lost and asked for another order to be placed immediately.

Once the discussion was over, the new Cookie Card chosen, and the order was placed, I voiced my concern about the first rep, and the second rep apologized and offered to send me a $20 gift card via email. I thanked her but was uncertain if I would ever use it.

Two weeks passed, and I did not receive the gift card. While I may not have used it, the fact that it was promised and did not arrive provided further proof that this company doesn’t care about its customers and repeat business.

So I called customer service again and asked about the status of the gift card. The day after I called, I received an email with a $15 gift discount code, however, it had a date that had already expired – not exactly how I would create repeat business.

I wondered what this company’s leadership team thinks about the importance of repeat business. Upon review of its website, I learned that its mission is to "provide the finest freshly-baked gifts and desserts for all of life’s moments, delivered with warmth and backed by our guarantee of excellence."

It would seem that the marketing/PR team and the leadership team are definitely NOT on the same page. All the proof you need is to read a little more: the company states its promises to customers:
•    Delicious cookies and freshly-baked goods
•    Only the highest quality standards
•    Friendly service focused on excellence
•    Trustworthy, dependable products and services
•    Unique gift ideas and exclusive packaging
•    The strongest guarantee in the business

If I experienced "friendly service focused on excellence" and the “strongest guarantee in the business,” then certainly there’s work to be done!

Can you guess the company? Tweet me @DebbieLaskeyMBA with the hashtag #servicefail.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Branding and Storytelling Are Linked

While many in the marketing arena believe that storytelling is the latest buzz, the truth is, storytelling has been around since the invention of brands. You just have to look at memorable taglines. Think about Wheaties' "Breakfast of Champions," or BMW's "The Ultimate Driving Machine," or "Bags Fly Free" from Southwest Airlines.

According to Wikipedia, “A tagline is a small amount of text which serves to clarify a thought for, or designed with a form of, dramatic effect. Many tagline slogans are reiterated phrases associated with an individual, social group, or product. As a variant of a branding slogan, taglines can be used in marketing materials and advertising. The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable dramatic phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of an audio/visual product or to reinforce and strengthen the audience’s memory of a literary product. Some taglines are successful enough to warrant inclusion in popular culture.”

Therefore, taglines are the seeds that create stories, and they introduce brands to new customers and solidify them into the lives of long-term customers. When your executive team conducts the "should our brand have a tagline" discussion, ask these five questions:

[1] Would a tagline clarify the brand’s competitive strength or strengths?
[2] Would a tagline speak to the target audience or audiences?
[3] Would a tagline easily align with the visual representation of the brand's logo?
[4] Would a tagline reflect the personality of the brand?
[5] Would a tagline be easily associated with the brand (and be memorable)?

If you can answer all of these questions with a resounding yes, then you're ready for a tagline. Always remember, though, the key for a successful tagline is to integrate it into all aspects of your marketing strategy from online marketing to in-store displays, from email marketing to advertising, from public relations to social media, etc. The tagline has to become an appendage to all of your communications and promotions - and if done effectively, it will become the core of your brand story, thus making your overall storytelling easy.

So, as you contemplate the importance of storytelling for your brand, consider these questions:

[1] How do you decide on a compelling story?
[2] What elements do you include and which do you leave out?
[3] What is an appropriate length for your story?
[4] Do you feature a person (for example, your founder) in your story?
[5] What is the key take-away from your brand’s story, and is it easy to grasp or embrace?

While the publishing industry is undergoing a transition from print to digital, there is one newspaper that embodies its city, The New York Times. While you may not know that the newspaper began in the mid-1800’s, there is no doubt that you've heard of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Art and Theater sections, and its Opinion section. Whenever someone wants to be heard, he or she comments in The New York Times. (Remember Angelina Jolie's editorial when she announced her breast cancer?) The newspaper’s motto was “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” but on its website, the motto was changed to, “All the News That’s Fit to Click.”

According to Southwest Airlines Chairman/President and CEO Gary Kelly, “Southwest was conceived on a cocktail napkin when San Antonio businessman Rollin King and his attorney, Herb Kelleher, met at the St. Anthony Club and etched out what would become the “Texas Triangle,” charting a path for low-fare travel between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The vision was simple: offer business professionals a faster, more efficient way to travel at a lower cost and do it with warm, personable service and a smile.” 

Kelleher knew that in order for his employees to do a good job, they had to have fun. So Southwest allowed flight attendants to wear shorts instead of uncomfortable uniforms and tell silly jokes to passengers over the intercoms. The airline continues to provide peanuts, soft drinks, and juice – when competitors charge or don’t offer any food or drinks. Southwest also invites passengers to travel with their baggage without a fee because according to their ads, “Bags fly free.”

And no discussion about storytelling would be complete without a reference to the master storyteller Walt Disney. There were Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and they were just the beginning. From animated movies to theme park rides to feature films, everything that is part of the Disney brand tells a memorable story.

So take a page from your favorite brand's play book - whether it's from movies, sports, or consumer products - and think long and hard as to why it's your favorite brand. I guarantee that you'll see a story lurking somewhere within the tagline.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tips for #EmployerBranding

On June 29, 2016, I was honored to be the featured guest of Digital Branding Institute's TweetChat or #DBIchat. The chat topic was, "Who Would Be Excited to Work for You? How to Brand Yourself As an Employer." The hour-long chat took place on Twitter, and some customer service and marketing experts chimed in. My special thanks to Shep Hyken, Elaine Fogel, and Ron Thomas.

Here were the eight questions asked during the chat:

Q1: What is employer branding?

Q2: Why should employers care about employer branding?

Q3: What is onboarding?

Q4: What part does onboarding play in employer branding?

Q5: What is a brand ambassador?

Q6: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?

Q7: Is employee engagement just a term or can businesses really create it?

Q8: What are some employer brands that stand out for their cultures?

Big thanks to Juntae DeLane for the invitation to lead the chat. If you missed the chat, check out the full recap below via Storify.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Five Brand Tips for Second Half of 2016

With 2016 nearing the halfway point, it’s time to review your brand strategies and see how effective your overall marketing initiatives have been. But wait. Before you review the email marketing metrics, website traffic metrics, and other key performance indicators, you can learn a lot about your overall marketing impact by reviewing your brand equity. According to Wikipedia, “Brand equity refers to the marketing effects or outcomes that accrue to a product with its brand name compared with those that would accrue if the same product did not have the brand name. “ So if you don’t like what you see, consider implementing these five brand tips for the remainder of 2016.

Build a more engaging Instagram presence and profile. While social media and social networking platforms come and go, Instagram has solidified its popularity with more than 300 million users. Since Facebook purchased it back in 2012, Instagram has become “the home for visual storytelling for everyone from celebrities, newsrooms and brands, to teens, musicians, and anyone with a creative passion.” So, does your brand have an Instagram profile? Some brands that effectively use the site to tell their stories include Tiffany & Co., Sherwin-Williams, M&Ms, Oreo, and the San Diego Zoo.

Build a top-notch mobile experience for your brand. Since most interactions between your brand and prospective customers result by a visit to your website, without a doubt, you want an amazing state-of-the-art website. But upon further thought, many people access the web from their smartphones and mobile devices – on a staggering rate. So that amazing website just might not be amazing on a small screen. Therefore, it’s critical that your site be responsive so that the important information can be seen, read, and acted upon. According to Wikipedia, “Responsive web design is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience, easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling, across a wide range of devices from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones.”

Conduct a brand audit. If you haven’t conducted a comprehensive brand audit in the past two years, it’s long overdue. This means everything that reflects your brand – all printed collateral, signage, main website and sub-sites, all social platforms, logo, tagline, color palette, press releases, corporate communications, overall brand voice – must be reviewed for consistency and relevancy. If they don
’t align, you have work to do.

SHARE ON TWITTER: If everything that reflects your brand doesn’t align, you have work to do. ~@DebbieLaskeyMBA

Review and update your brand promise. Is it still relevant? Is it still supported by customers? In addition, is your brand story easy to understand? Is it easy to tell? Edit, tweak, and edit again. Make sure everything is up-to-date, relevant, and easy to understand and share.

Engage your employees so that they are enthusiastic about their most important job: being ambassadors for your brand. When employees are happy, customers feel the excitement and want to be part of the brand experience. Educate employees, inform employees, and reward employees. All employees are brand advocates whether they think they are or not.

And one final reminder as you look toward the second half of 2016, to quote Michael Eisner, former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.” Don’t mess up your thousand small gestures!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Customer Service Is Not Something to Drive Around

Many business experts have stated time and again in the mainstream press that the way to stand out from the competition is to offer exceptional customer service. This is not rocket science, and those in the customer experience sector have been singing this song for years. But the reality is, most companies ignore this recommendation, and instead, listen to a crazy song where the lyrics are “Ignore the customer, treat the customer poorly, and don’t give a hoot about repeat customers.” 

Why does this reality exist when it’s so easy to train employees to provide a positive and memorable customer experience?

Last year, I received an email from an automotive company seeking my business. At the time, I was not in the market for a new car, but since I attend the Los Angeles Auto Show on an annual basis and have visited a number of car museums in the United States and Germany, I’m always eager to test-drive new vehicles – especially those with a lot of horsepower! The email promotion advertised “Date Night” with a vehicle of my choosing. Here’s what the email said:

Dear Debbie,
On behalf of the Lincoln Motor Company, I would like to offer you an
opportunity to experience Lincoln through an exclusive, test-drive program,
Lincoln Date Night. Whether you’re looking for a stylish sedan or full-size
luxury SUV, this is the best way to get better acquainted with our exciting
2015 lineup. No strings, no obligation. The details are simple. Start by
choosing a vehicle from our 2015 lineup. On your scheduled Date Night,
drive away and enjoy the vehicle for a full 24 hours. Email or call to set
up your Date Night.

You may be thinking, what a great promotion. Who wouldn’t want to participate? I contacted Lincoln and after several back and forth emails, I learned that no vehicle was available in my area for any weekend. Naturally, I wanted my 24-hours to take place during a weekend, or I wouldn’t get much time to drive the vehicle. Alas, my Date Night with Lincoln never happened, but I hoped I would get another chance.

Fast forward a year. Last month, I received an email from Lincoln that referenced the 2016 lineup. After I responded to the email, I was told that there were no available SUV’s to test-drive and no dealerships within a 50-mile radius of my home that were participating in this campaign. To make matters worse, I could only get a car during the week. So, to recap, I was disappointed that I had not participated last year and then learned that I would have to drive 50 miles away from my home DURING THE WEEK to drive a car that I had no interest in purchasing. Some date night!

Let’s return to the concept of providing a positive customer experience presented at the beginning of this post. I was already a prospective customer with an interest in this event, since I indicated in my email last month that I had been disappointed in not being able to participate last year. So, it would have made sense for the Lincoln rep to have tried to accommodate my preferences – in any way possible!

According to Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director of Disney Institute in Florida, “The words ‘'I’ll need to speak with my manager’ probably sound familiar to most of us, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with involving one’s manager in helping to make decisions. However, when a service failure occurs, it’s essential to resolve the issue quickly. With tens of thousands of visitors each day to Walt Disney Parks and Resorts around the world, we recognize that issues will occasionally come up. Therefore, it’s essential that employees are equipped with the tools to enable them to quickly resolve as many issues as possible on their own. At Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, customers discover that everyone is the right person when it comes to providing speedy service recovery.” Clearly, no one who interacted with me at Lincoln spoke with a supervisor – to find me an SUV in my local area – not was anyone equipped with the tools to resolve this epic service fail.

According to Annette Franz, a fellow customer experience consultant, Annette Franz (@annettefranz and @cxjourney on Twitter), “Achieving customer delight is paramount to the success of a business. Customer satisfaction is no longer enough – at least for businesses that want to thrive instead of just survive. But creating a delightful customer experience can be difficult, especially if you’re focusing solely on the customer.”

In addition, Annette writes about customer journey maps, a framework that allows you to walk in your customers’ shoes by traveling with them as they interact with your business. Customer journey maps enable you to improve your customer experience by helping to best understand how customers are interacting with you now and what areas to invest in moving forward.

Annette recommends that customer journey maps should be used to:
•    Understand the customer and his/her interactions with your business.
•    Build empathy for the customer and what he’s/she’s going through during all interactions with your business.
•    Provide a clear line of sight for employees to the target: customers.
•    Train and coach employees about the customer experience.
•    Speak a universal language (customer).

When asked about my recent “Date Night” experience and the fact that it didn’t happen for the second year in a row, Annette said, “The experience for prospective customers is as critical, if not more so, than that of customers. Ultimately, if you can’t hit a home run while you’re courting potential customers, then you won’t have any customers to have a relationship with going forward. You need to ensure that you deliver a great experience at all stages of the customer lifecycle.”

So, with all this knowledge about customer experience marketing and customer journey maps, why did Lincoln do such an incredible job with its Date Night PROMOTION but such a lousy job with the EXECUTION of its campaign? Tune in next year to see what happens.

Image Credit: Digitalart via

Monday, May 16, 2016

Secrets to Get Your Brand in Lights!

As Walter Landor once said, "Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind." So how much effort does your business or nonprofit allocate toward branding? If you don't spend time and effort building your brand, you won't be the Nike, Disney, or Coca-Cola in your industry.

I recently met Bill Ellis on Twitter, and since we share a passion for branding, we had an interesting discussion. Here's a brief introduction before the highlights below: Bill works with business owners and professionals who want to increase their value to better serve others and achieve stratospheric success. His experience, perspective, and insights drive powerful results including clarity of purpose, executable strategies, business growth, and personal fulfillment. As the principal of Branding for Results, Bill works as a coach, speaker, and thought partner and is a certified Go-Giver speaker and coach. Connect on Twitter @WCEllis, Instagram @wcellis, LinkedIn, and visit his website Branding for Results. 

What is a fearless brand, and why should a brand desire to be one?
BILL ELLIS: Let me start by defining a brand. First, it’s important to understand that the meaning is the same for a personal brand, a company brand, a product, or a service. Your brand, a brand, is the value that you offer. A brand is the value proposition which is defined by the combination of purpose/passion, skills/assets/attributes, and relevance.

A fearless brand is built on a base of authenticity and is one which has complete conviction in its value and relevance. A fearless brand accepts both its strengths and shortcomings at face value, is committed to growing its value, and keeps its focus on the needs of the people it serves.

It's very important for brands to conduct audits on a regular basis. How do you define the three stages of a brand audit?
BILL ELLIS: The purpose of a brand audit is to obtain an impartial and expert assessment of your brand. Think of it similar to an accounting audit where an independent CPA is brought in to review your books, to verify and validate your financial situation, and to identify areas of improvement or concern. Your brand is your most valuable asset so it’s important to treat it as such. My brand audit has three overlying stages – the 3D’s of my brand audit:
* Discovery – This phase is comprised of learning, investigating, inquiring and seeking. Speaking with the business owner, key stakeholders to understand how they define their brand and its current messaging.
* Development – Phase II begins with a deeper dive into the brand via interviews across a broader slice of stakeholders – including employees and customers both past and present.
* Deliverable – The final phase of my brand audit is defined by my assessing all of the information, connecting the dots and then providing recommended actions which fall under one of three headings – Start, Stop or Continue. Discussions then take place to address any questions or strategic needs the client may have.

You've established something called the "Seven C's of Branding," what are they?
BILL ELLIS: I developed my Seven C’s of Branding as the result of my transformation from a marketing executive at Anheuser-Busch to a solo provider of business services. I present the C’s in a linear fashion, yet all seven of them interact and occur simultaneously.
*Control – Determine what can and cannot be controlled in order to make the most from one’s efforts – and to avoid wasting energy and time on those things which will not yield tangible results.
*Clarity – Perhaps the single most important “C,” clarity is where the work is done to identify purpose and passion and then talents, assets, and skills in order to identify the most effective value proposition. It is here that the work is done to validate what is the brand’s relevance and to whom.
*Conviction – It is at this stage that a brand knows that it is optimized – that it has become a fearless brand.
*Conversion – The intangibles of the first three C’s need to be converted to tangibles which define and communicate the brand’s essence.
*Communication – Determining what the correct message is, how to best package it and which delivery channel(s) are most effective.
*Connections – Creating connections with customers, prospects, and brand advocates.
*Consistency – A critical “C.” Consistency does several things, notably, it reinforces the brand’s value and message at every single touch point and it builds trust. Trust leads to more repeat customers, more referrals, and an expectation that the value sought from your brand will always be delivered.

You spent many years at one of the most well-known brands in the beverage industry. What three brand tips can every brand learn from Anheuser-Busch?
BILL ELLIS: I learned a great deal during my 25+ years in brand management at Anheuser-Busch so narrowing it down to three is a challenge.
*Know how your brand meets the needs of those you will serve.
*Be flexible in your strategy as the market dictates.
*Avoid change for the sake of change.

What's your favorite brand and why?
BILL ELLIS: I’ve reviewed and written about and worked on so many brands I can’t select just one. I’ll just point out the two most ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ brands I’ve featured on my Building Fearless Brands blog. Those are Judge Judy and Jack Daniel’s…draw your own conclusions.

What's your least favorite brand and why?
BILL ELLIS: Any brand which is disingenuous, deceptive, or has just awful marketing – sadly there are far too many to list.

Most businesses have added to their C-level suite with a Chief Talent Officer, Chief Digital Officer, and even a Chief Customer Officer. When will businesses create Chief Branding Officers?
BILL ELLIS: I don’t foresee the majority of companies creating the position of Chief Branding Officer…nor should they. What I would rather them do is adopt a philosophy of providing the greatest value possible to their customers, vendors, and most importantly, their employees. I would hope they learn to focus more on the human brands that are at the core of their success.

A big thank you to Bill for appearing on my blog!

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Leadership Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

Whenever I think about leadership, I think about Eric Jacobson. Today, I would like to welcome Eric back to my blog. We met through our work with MicroMentor in 2009, and since then, Eric has appeared on my blog twice as a featured guest and countless other times with quotes. Eric has more than a quarter-century of experience in successfully leading employees and teams through periods of revenue growth, new product development, and re-engineering. He is an experienced mentor and coach and holds an MBA Degree from Keller Graduate School. Eric’s passion is helping individuals to become effective leaders at work, within organizations, and wherever they are called upon to lead and inspire. Recently, Eric and I had a conversation about the changing nature of leadership, and highlights follow below. For more about Eric, visit his Blog and follow him on Twitter.

QUESTION: I had a discussion with a fellow customer experience colleague (@AnnetteFranz) and she mentioned that heads of businesses should refer to themselves as executives rather than leaders. This comment has remained with me. Why do you believe there is such a lack of quality leadership today?
ERIC: There is a lack of quality leadership for a couple different reasons. Often, people who excel at a technical level within an organization are promoted to a management position only to discover that they either have no desire to be a leader and/or lack the skills to effectively lead. They hold the “executive” title but aren’t effective leaders. At other times, individuals who start out as effective leaders become less effective when they focus their attention on meeting the needs of Boards and investment bankers rather than their employees. These often conflicting situations keep these executives from truly LEADING their businesses.

QUESTION: There's a new book entitled "Superbosses" by Sydney Finkelstein. The book received the following praise from Millard Drexler, Chairman and CEO of J. Crew Group: "A smart leader surrounds himself with smart people. Through the book, Finkelstein showed the surprising ways leaders actually find, develop, and grow a team of curious, talented individuals." What are three ways YOU think a super boss grows a team of talented employees?
ERIC: Here are my three:
1. Ensure that each team member clearly understands his or her role on the team and understand the team’s mission. Discourage any one team member from “being a hero.”
2. View disagreement as a good thing and allow team members to constructively express their viewpoints. Encourage the team to steer away from groupthink.
3. Ideally seek to allow each team member's success dependent on another team member's to foster collaboration across all functions.

QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer): “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?
ERIC: This is a great quote and such important advice for leaders. To me, it means trust your employees and get out of their way so they can do their jobs. Don’t sidetrack them from getting their most important work done by injecting tasks that don’t support the primary task at hand. Allow them to take risks and to fail. Then, use those situations as learning opportunities. It also means to me, remove obstacles within the organization. Remove outdated and no longer needed policies or processes. And when it comes to being trusted as a leader, do what you say you will do. Deliver on your commitments. And, don’t promise something you aren’t going to provide.

QUESTION: When President Obama introduced Janet Yellen as the new Federal Reserve Chair in October 2013, he said, “Janet Yellen is a proven leader who knows how to build consensus, the kind of person who makes everybody around her better.” What three tips can YOU provide to create this type of leader?
(Here's the link to my post about this news:
ERIC: Here are my three:
1.  Listen to all sides of an issue and provide individuals with a safe environment to express their opinions.
2.   Help educate and inform those you work with so that they, too, can understand the fullest spectrum of the collective viewpoints.
3.   Share and explain how coming to a consensus nearly always wins out over making no decision.

QUESTION: How can a CEO/President define or set the direction for his or her company's culture?
ERIC: Explain it. Believe it. Be it. Live it. In other words, walk the talk. Lead by example. Clearly demonstrate your support of the culture.  Fully support the employees who, and the actions that, contribute to the desired company culture.

QUESTION: What have you learned from your three favorite leaders?
ERIC: From my favorite workplace leader, I learned to listen to both sides of an issue because the truth is likely in the middle of the two sides. From a fellow Rotarian, I learned to lead with a “can-do” attitude. That positivity and enthusiasm is contagious. It drives success. From all leaders who do this, I learned to be decisive. Make decisions. Don’t stalemate yourself or your employees by being indecisive.

My sincere gratitude to Eric for sharing his leadership insights again on my blog. Check out his two previous appearances at the links below:

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via