Sunday, January 11, 2015

Leadership Insights from the Nonprofit Sector

I would like to introduce Scott Bowling, Psy.D., to my blog. Since 1999, Scott has been President and CEO of the Exceptional Children's Foundation (ECF), a nonprofit based in Culver City (California) with 15 service sites throughout Los Angeles County. ECF provides services for young children, students, and adults with special needs. Scott leads a staff of over 350 employees, a budget of $25 million, and for the last year, I’m honored to say I've been a member of Scott's team as Marketing Director. Recently, Scott and I discussed leadership, and highlights from our conversation follow.

QUESTION: How is the process of leading different when leading a nonprofit versus a for-profit business?
SCOTT BOWLING: The leadership process and principles applied to nonprofit vs. for-profit businesses are more alike than dissimilar. The employees of any business must be prioritized as the organization's greatest asset. Motivating staff to the mission of the business and ensuring each employee understands his/her role and value to achieving desired outcomes are paramount. Acknowledging performance excellence while keeping everyone invested in the company's direction is what achieves the best (mission and financial) results.

QUESTION: What three qualities are most important for employees to be successful in the nonprofit sector?
SCOTT BOWLING: I believe in these three: shared company values, communication flow, and positive attitude/energy. 

QUESTION: How can a President/CEO set the direction for his/her company's or nonprofit's culture?
SCOTT BOWLING: The CEO sets the tone for the company's day-to-day operations and therefore creates its culture through consistency of actions, applied policy, and communications. S/He must live and breathe the company's values (integrity, service excellence, fiscal responsibility, people first, for instance), and attract and retain the human resources (staff) who share these values and facilitate the tone (culture) established by the CEO.

QUESTION: In the nonprofit sector, employees wear many hats, so how can an individual gain respect without a leadership title?
SCOTT BOWLING: Respect is earned by individuals with and without a leadership title. When individuals maintain a positive attitude, perform duties with consistent quality, and can be relied upon to reflect the company's values, trust and respect will follow.

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
SCOTT BOWLING: Once a clear branding plan is established and communicated, follow the plan – consistently. Branding is seen in the way leaders dress, how s/he speaks to others inside and outside the business, the messages sent in writing and orally (how s/he represents the company), and in actions taken.

With Scott Bowling at ECF Event.
QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert: “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?
SCOTT BOWLING: It means that everyone has the opportunity to lead. Seize the opportunities that inevitably become available to demonstrate your belief in the whole, and those who comprise the oneness of the company. Defend what's right (through consistent actions and words), and stand firm in the values that advance the company forward.

My thanks to Scott Bowling for sharing his leadership insights. Learn more about ECF at and on Facebook at

Image Credit (Leadership): Stuart Miles via

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Marketing Highlights from 2014

With 2014 history, it’s time for my “Top 10” marketing highlights list. What campaigns were great? Which were duds? What stood out as marketing innovation, and what will go down in history that can rival Apple’s 1984 TV ad? What do YOU remember from the 2014 marketing reel?

With a quick nod to David Letterman for the format, here’s my list:

Number 10:
Budweiser's Super Bowl ad with a puppy and a Clydesdale horse tugged at the heartstrings as only a Budweiser ad can.

Number 9:
While the Sochi Olympics took place in February, the biggest story was that Bob Costas, the legendary broadcaster for the event, suffered from an eye infection.

Number 8:
In typical Apple fashion, the release of the next iteration of the iPhone (the iPhone 6 and 6s), was unveiled to long lines and much anticipation.

Number 7:
Manhattanhenge took over New York City. Twice during the summer of 2014, the Manhattan sunset illuminated both the north and south sides of every cross street. For two days, half the sun sat above and below the horizon, thus creating a sort of Stonehenge effect.

Number 6:
Instagram stood out as the social media platform for the most fun and the most engagement. Sorry to Facebook and Twitter.

Number 5:
Pizza Hut redesigned its logo: the roof was history, and in its place was a red and white pizza.

Number 4:
Lego launched its Science Line "Research Institute Set" for girls, the first female offering to feature women in a professional setting rather than partying. The set consisted of a female paleontologist, female astronomer, and female chemist - although it was a limited edition and sold out within days.

Number 3:
SeaWorld continued its damage control due to the 2013 film, "Blackfish," about how it captured and treats Killer Whales.

Number 2:
Data breaches became too common, as evidenced by breaches announced by Target, Staples, AT&T, Albertson's, The Home Depot, and Apple's iCloud.

And Number 1 on the 2014 Marketing Highlights List:
As a result of a security hack and possible threats to viewers' safety, Sony Pictures pulled the distribution of its film "The Interview" from major movie theater chains. While the company eventually released the film through small and independent theaters and via online outlets, the issue of free speech became a bigger issue than the hack. People who had not planned to view the film added it to their "must-view" list to support free speech.

What would you add to this list? Here’s to 2015 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Krishna Arts via

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Continuity of Leadership

Today, too few businesses plan for change - especially what will happen when the person at the top, the CEO or President, moves on or retires. So, the businesses that do plan provide the inspiration for many others. A nonprofit that believes in planning is the Special Olympics of Southern California (SOSC).

In a book produced by the SOSC entitled, "The Continuity of Leadership," President/CEO Bill Shumard provides his insights about leadership and why all organizations must have a continuity plan. The reason is simple: when leaders change, cultures change, and as a result, organizations change. This much change is definitely not in the best interest of any organization.

The secret for Shumard's success can be found in his mantra: "Everyone is a leader." This type of leadership belief builds a culture of project ownership, teamwork, and people development. At the end of the day, team members want to work together, which results in high quality work and positive morale. Employees go above and beyond, not because they are thinking about their paychecks, but because they all believe in the cause.

Enjoy these other inspirational leadership quotes from the book:

"Communicate as a person, not a boss - have a conversation." - Anne Sweeney, Disney/ABC Television

"Leaders and leadership teams working together will run a business more effectively than a hierarchical, command structure." - Marvin Bower, McKinsey & Co.

"It doesn't matter if you have a perfect product, production plan and marketing pitch; you'll still need the right people to lead and implement those plans." - Bill Gates, Microsoft

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Reminder for All E-Commerce Sites During the Holiday Shopping Season

With the online holiday shopping season upon us, here's an important reminder for all E-Commerce sites.

While online surfing recently, I wanted to make a purchase for a family member and was using a site I had not previously used. I entered the product details and conducted a search, found the desired item, and then continued to maneuver around the site to enter my name, address, and credit card details.

As I was just about to click “place order,” something surprising happened. The entire site went down and a message popped up on my screen, “This site has gone down for maintenance. Try again later.”

I understand that unexpected situations happen, so I was happy (truth be told, happy is not the correct description) to give the benefit of the doubt to this site’s company. But if regularly-scheduled maintenance had been planned, don’t you think there should have been a message on the homepage indicating the times that the site would be down and inoperable? If such a message had been visible on the homepage or, even better, along the top of all pages, I would have been in a position to either chose to enter my data with lightning speed or chose to return the next day.

I shook my head once the site went down, because I wasn’t sure if my data had, in fact, been entered and the order had been processed. So, the next morning, I called the company – and after going through a series of numerous prompts, I spoke with a live person and provided the order number on my print out (I had printed out the web page where I was when the site went down the previous evening).

The lady could not locate the order number, and she went on to explain that due to the fact that the site had gone down the previous evening, my order had not been completed. I asked her if the site was back up, and she said yes. I waited a few seconds before saying anything, because I was curious what she might do to leave me with a positive impression of her company. When it was obvious that she was ready to end the call, I told her that I would visit the site to complete my transaction.

What do you think she said in response? I expected her to say something along the lines of “We’re sorry that the site went down during your transaction. This happens rarely, but we appreciate you business and if there’s anything I can do to facilitate your transaction, please let me know.” Or what about this, “Can I take your order over the phone to make your day go smoother?” But she said NOTHING. In fact, she disconnected the call.

It’s a shame that the customer service rep I spoke with had never been trained by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, whose classic advice can lead to memorable, positive, and repeat customer experiences: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every aspect of the customer experience better.”

If your business depends on successful online transactions this holiday season, don't ever lose sight of the importance of creating positive customer experiences.

Image Credit: Renjith Krishnan via

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Service Is the New Marketing – Thanks to Social Media

In the words of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Two recent experiences couldn’t have been more different, and as a result, I started to think how the two establishments valued service and repeat business. In today
s era of nearly instant communication and thanks to social media and the myriad of sites available to anyone with a smartphone or tablet, a recap of a good or bad experience can appear anywhere from a small blog to thousands of YouTube views to the national TV news.

I visited a local restaurant for lunch. While the restaurant I visited was in Los Angeles, there are other locations, so it’s not a one-off like the Cheers bar we all know and love from the TV show where you walk in the door, and “everyone knows your name.” However, at this restaurant, I have a favorite waiter who knows what I like and actually brings my favorite items without menus. Alas, on this particular visit, my favorite waiter wasn’t working. Since I have positive experiences at this restaurant 99% of the time, imagine my horror at this rare experience.

After entering the restaurant and waiting 10 minutes for the hostess, I was seated at a patio table. Then, after waiting another 10 minutes to be acknowledged by a server, I placed my order. After the order was taken, I saw the waiter walk out of the restaurant’s back door never to return. Yes, you read that correctly: I never saw him again. Some other waiters tried to provide decent service, but without “owning” my table, they were unsure about order details and did not check back to ask if anything was needed after the kitchen team delivered the food.

Contrast this poor excuse for service with another recent experience. I visited a large hotel (a member of the Westin hotel chain) for a family celebration in Southern California. From the moment I checked in to the moment I checked out, I was treated like a VIP. My name was used when the front desk personnel spoke to me, and my name was used when I dined at the hotel’s restaurant. It was clear that this hotel staff understood that people have choices when it comes to choosing a hotel. The staff at this hotel wanted its guests to remember their version of excellent customer service – and return in the future.

Think how quickly I could have posted my dissatisfaction with the restaurant. I could have posted a comment on Twitter or Foursquare, uploaded a photo of the waiter’s disappearance out the restaurant’s back door on Facebook or Pinterest, shared a short video on YouTube, or posted a negative review on Yelp. By contrast, I could have posted positive comments or photos or both about my hotel experience just as quickly.

With social media becoming such an integral part of a company’s overall marketing strategy these days, service is really the only way for companies to stand out from their competitors. While negative reviews tend to remain online longer, it is critical for customers, clients, stakeholders, and guests to share their positive experiences and feedback too.

So, at the conclusion of your business dealings and interactions, do you request that your customers talk about their positive experiences online? Do you follow up with them to repeat the ask? And how do you thank them? This should all be part of your social media strategy.

Happy Customer Experience Day! #CXDay

Image Courtesy: Boians Cho Joo Young via

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tips for Bold and Gutsy Leadership

I would like to introduce John Baldoni to my blog. I met John through my social media activities on Twitter, and over the last five years, I've gained immeasurable insight from him thanks to his Twitter comments, blog posts, videos, and books. John is an internationally-recognized leadership educator, executive coach, and speaker. He has written more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide. In 2014, Trust Across America named him to its list of top 100 most trustworthy business experts, and also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked John #11 on its list of global leadership experts. John has authored more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications including Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek.

I am honored to share some of John's latest insights here on my blog.

QUESTION: Your leadership inspiration is timeless, but what's your latest secret to bold and gutsy leadership? Please explain MOXIE.
JOHN BALDONI: MOXIE focuses on the guts, gumption, and determination that individuals and leaders apply to achieve their goals. Moxie itself is a combination of fire and determination. As I describe in my book, MOXIE serves as an acronym for:

MINDFULNESS – to be aware of yourself and your situation

OPPORTUNITY – to turn challenges into possibilities for growth

X-FACTOR – to use your character and its attributes to succeed

INNOVATION – to look for possibilities where others see obstacles

ENGAGEMENT – to work with others to achieve positive outcomes

In a nutshell, MOXIE is what every leader needs to succeed.

QUESTION: How do you define the differences between leadership and management?
JOHN BALDONI: Managers keep the trains running on time. Leaders direct the trains to where they should go. That is why managers must administrate; they run operations and keep an organization’s functions running smoothly. Leaders provide the guidance that provides direction. Truth be told, managers must lead and leaders must manage.

QUESTION: If an employee doesn't have a good relationship with his/her boss, how can he/she "lead the boss" or lead up?
JOHN BALDONI: You cannot manage up nor lead up if you don’t have a strong relationship with your boss. You can build a relationship by framing what you want to achieve in ways that reflect positively on the boss. Learn what your boss wants to accomplish and help him/her deliver on it.

QUESTION: How does a leader build an effective team?
JOHN BALDONI: Understand the wants and aspirations of individuals and then you will understand what they can achieve as a team. Set forth direction for the team and link that direction to what you know appeals to individuals and the team.

QUESTION: How can a CEO/President define or set the direction for his/her company's culture?
JOHN BALDONI: You need to focus people on the purpose of their organization. With purpose, you can get people on board. Without it, the organization flounders. It’s up to the leader to link purpose to individual action and team outcomes.

Learn more on John’s website, the site for his new book, and follow John for regular leadership advice on Twitter @JohnBaldoni.

Image Credit: digitalart via

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Does Customer Experience Impact Branding?

I would like to introduce David Jacques to my blog. I met David through my social media activities, specifically through Twitter and Google Plus circles because we share a like mind about the importance of customer experience marketing. David (a Canadian and former New Yorker) is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd., based in Hong Kong, and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. Recently, David and I discussed the impact of quality customer experiences on branding, and highlights of our discussion follow. 

QUESTION: How do you define customer experience?
DAVID JACQUES: There are a few good definitions of customer experience out there that practitioners tend to agree with. For me there are two key points: First, from the customer’s point of view, and second, through any and all active or passive interaction with an organization. I specify from the customer’s point of view because customers will only consider what is relevant to them. And the higher emotional involvement or outcome, the more important any single interaction experience will have on the future relationship. I think the term can be used for a single interaction but it's also the sum of all. And the breadth of interactions that are part of the customer experience goes beyond the customer lifecycle. I call it the customer experience lifecycle, which starts long before and continues long after the traditional definition of customer lifecycle.

Customer experience now means different things to different people. What is important is defining how it is managed and that’s where you see if a company understands it. To manage customer experience, companies must have a holistic view across and between all channels, touch-points and departments. It's not sufficient to look at a single channel in isolation because customers move from one channel to another, and this transition must be seamless. And that’s why customer experience management requires cross-departmental collaboration.

Some companies will talk about customer experience with a focus on a single channel or even a single interaction. They may spend a lot on experience improvement projects for interactions that have little impact on the overall and long-term customer experience, like opening an account (since this is done only once). Companies must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. And the proverbial forest is customer value.

On a side note, I wrote the first definition of customer experience on Wikipedia based on an article I wrote almost 10 years ago. It was eventually removed under the pretext that it was not a recognized term (and that I was breaching my own copyright), and later another similar definition came through customer experience management. Today both definitions exist and I do think there is a difference between customer experience (CX) and customer experience management (CEM). One is the result from the customer’s point of view, and the other is the framework from the company’s point of view.

QUESTION: Where does customer experience fit in a business strategy?
DAVID JACQUES: I think it is well recognized now that customer experience is directly tied to a company's bottom line. Most executives will say that it is core to their strategy but don’t really know where it fits. Customer experience management must be front and center in the business strategy.

Discussions about the customer experience must be at the executive table and the processes to measure and improve it must be embedded throughout the organization. It's not something done on a project basis; it is an ongoing effort and part of everything a company does. Although I have been an external consultant for most of my career, I know very well that to be sustainable, customer experience must be something managed internally in organizations. Companies have matured in terms of customer experience and are starting to understand this, which is why I am now more interested in finding the right fit for a client-side role as opposed to consulting; to take ownership of a company’s customer experience and have more impact.

QUESTION: How has social media changed customer service?
DAVID JACQUES: Social media has changed customer service forever; it has brought a company’s responsiveness to the public front and center, exposed for all to see. Customers take their questions or complaints to social channels. How a company responds will be seen by dozens or thousands of people and will affect the likeliness to buy from that company.  It has obviously created a huge challenge to companies who are not responsive. But it has also created great opportunities.

Social customer service is the new marketing. I recently did some research which shows that a company’s image of post-sales service responsiveness has a dispositional effect on customers’ sentiment toward interactions with a company, more than any other factor. In other words, customers who perceive a company as being reluctant to provide post-sales service are more likely to be dissatisfied through any interaction regardless of the actual quality of the experience. On the other hand, a reputation of caring post-sales service results in customers being predisposed to be satisfied – and more forgiving in the case of a breakdown. Given this, we can understand the importance of social media customer service since it exposes a company’s customer service attitude.

QUESTION: Please provide three examples of brands that understand customer experience marketing and why.
DAVID JACQUES: Difficult question, because I don’t see many brands providing an excellent customer experience all around. Of course classic examples everyone uses like Amazon come to mind. The customer is really at the core of the organization, and that’s made very clear by the CEO. I used to take Apple often as an example but not longer. I still think their products are great when I don’t have to take them to repair. They have done many things well but recent experiences as a customer suggests the apple has fallen far from the tree in this post-Steve Jobs era. I wouldn’t use Starbucks as an example. While it has a great customer-centered culture, its aggressive expansion at the expense of smaller local coffee shops doesn't create community goodwill. That has affected my customer experience with them. The Starbucks machine has lost steam (pun intended). I still admire these companies for different reasons, but not necessarily for their overall customer experience.

My thanks to David for his insights. Connect with David on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via