What dog biscuits can teach us about customer service

Do you go the extra mile? Or is "good enough" good enough for you?

There are too many people who go through the motions. You know the kind, the folks who come in to work, but aren't fully there. They do their jobs, but they don't strive for excellence.

It seems customer service is at an all-time low at many businesses, so it doesn't take much to really shine these days. A cheery hello to a customer. Saying "thank you" when someone concludes their business. It's the little things that can take a humdrum experience and make it memorable. That's why I always get a smile on my face when I open my order from 1-800-PetMeds.

I have two dogs on medication and that requires a monthly order from the online pet pharmacy. When I get my box each month, it always comes with a big dog biscuit tucked inside. I'm sure they buy these in bulk and that bone probably costs a nickel or a penny, but the gesture is priceless. I really like the idea of them acknowledging that there are dogs in my home and wanting to give my pooch a treat. As a customer, it makes me like them more.

Think about it. Who doesn't enjoy some small token of appreciation? Or am I the only one who gets giddy when I stay in a hotel that leaves a mint on my pillow? People like to be acknowledged, appreciated, and seen. Mints and dog biscuits are cheap, but they are of immense value when it comes to customer service.

Is there something similar you can introduce? Some way to make your customers or clients feel special? It's not about the cost, it's about the thought. In a day and age where everything is automated, we all just cherish being treated as humans every now and again. Don't we?

Gary Vaynerchuk's crystal ball trumps your Magic 8 ball

"As we all go Jetsons, the $h!t that's going to matter is Flintstones." These are the colorful and candid words of Gary Vaynerchuk, author and marketer, as he talks about living in a high-tech world at a time when businesses are striving to become more human than ever. Gary is a guy who gets it and shows you how you can get it, too.

I had the pleasure of seeing Gary speak this week at an event produced by my favorite networking group, LinkedOC (thank you to the amazing Bryan Elliott for producing another stellar evening!). I've read Gary's best-seller Crush It and I've seen his online rants, but seeing him in person was so much better than I ever expected. Some people are just more vivid in the flesh, so if Gary comes to your city to promote his new book The Thank You Economy, I highly recommend you go see him!

For those who aren't familiar with Gary, in short he's a business dynamo. A lifelong entrepreneur who has marketing in his DNA, Gary grew the family business from $4 million to $60 million because he's just one of those kind of guys. You know, the kind who like to make the impossible possible (learn more about Gary HERE).

Whether you know of Gary or not, he makes you think of things in a new way. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from his LinkedOC appearance that you might find useful as you grow your business or ponder your marketing techniques:
People draw lines in the sand that they swear they'll never cross, but they do
Remember way back when you first got on the internet and a website wanted your credit card number? How about when grocery stores wanted your address and phone number to sign up for a loyalty card? Initially, many of us swore we'd never give up that kind of private information to a stranger, but now all of us do.

The internet is word of mouth on steroids
Think of the things you write on your Facebook wall or some of the things you tweet. Would you ever pick up the phone to call someone and say, "Mmmm.Pinkberry yogurt is soooo yummy!"? Me thinks the answer is no. Word of mouth (powered by the web) is more effective than any overpriced Super Bowl ad. That's just fact.

The future is all about gamification
Are you slow to embrace geo location tools such as Foursquare and Gowalla? These platforms also have gaming features that can provide discounts to users. Gary predicts that there may come a time when your state or local government utilizes these sites to encourage patronage of government run attractions. Check in at five places such as the local museum, state park or dam, or other such location and get a $1,000 credit on your taxes! What an interesting way to stimulate the economy and support your city or state, eh?

Just because someone's right out of college, doesn't mean they know squat about social media
Businesses tend to think if they hire a 21-year-old straight out of school that they're the best candidate to run the company's Facebook or Twitter page. Heck, that generation knows social media, right? No! As Gary says, that fresh-faced graduate has only been scouring his Facebook feed looking for girls in bikinis. He/she doesn't know how to convert those fans or followers into actual customers. You have to know something about business to do that. Crazy revelation, huh?

Planning for today is great. Prepping for tomorrow is better. But, being able to look five or ten years down the road and know what's coming is what separates the average from the extraordinary. Gary is one of those folks who can look at the facts and see something you and I don't: the future.

If you have the opportunity to see him on his book tour, it's worth the price of admission. Tell him Amber sent you. I think he'll appreciate the good old-fashioned word of mouth referral...

7 ways to provide value to your Twitter followers

Twitter is a powerful social and professional tool. You can use it to build your reputation, establish yourself as an expert, develop your network, and grow your business. You can also use it for purely social reasons to make new friends or find people who share your interests. However, regardless of how you choose to utilize Twitter, you get the most out of it when you provide some degree of value.

Here are seven no fail things you can do to be helpful to others in your Twitter stream:
  1. Let people know about professional and/or social events that may be of interest to them
  2. Introduce your followers to one another if you think they would benefit from knowing one another
  3. Answer people's questions (so many tweets are from folks who need an answer to something)
  4. Share articles that can be useful to others in your industry or those with similar interests or hobbies
  5. Tell people know about the things you find interesting or educational: books, blogs, products, etc.
  6. Provide unique insight or observations that could be beneficial to others
  7. Pass the word about cool opportunities (e.g. contests, freebies, coupons, etc)
What did I miss? How do you provide value to your Twitter connections? Or is value overrated?

Is it ok for journalists to change facts?

I don't care what your politics or your religion are, if you're a journalist your job is the report the facts of the day. Journalists are historians in many ways, documenting what's happening in our world. That why I find it so terribly disturbing that one newspaper has gone as far as to edit a photograph taken at the White House.

The photo below was shot by White House photographer Pete Souza. It captures President Obama and his national security team watching the live feed of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound on April 30.

Photo credit: Pete Souza

The photo that appeared in Brooklyn's Der Tzitung, however, looked like this:

Photo credit: Yahoo! News

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been "fauxtoshopped" out. As has the woman in the back, Audrey Tomason, the national director of counter-terrorism. Apparently, the Der Tzitung is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic publication which won't print any photos of women in its broadsheet.

Now, aside from the fact that the White House says official photos made available to news organizations cannot be manipulated, aside from the fact that Der Tzitung finds it unsuitable to show women in photos, what ever happened to journalists reporting the news? You know, the news that's all jam-packed with facts and reality?

This isn't about religion. This isn't about politics. And please don't turn this into a discussion about Hillary Clinton. This is about journalism. If we can't count on newspapers to deliver the unbiased, unaltered news, well, quite frankly, they serve no purpose. To completely change the facts of history by removing one of the highest-ranking cabinet members from a photo that chronicles one of the most significant days in U.S. history? That's disgraceful.

Practice your religion. Embrace your politics. But when a journalist takes the oath to report the news, his or her personal feelings should take a back seat. Shame on anyone and any news organization that would alter an historic photograph. If it somehow goes again the "ethics" of the news organization, I say don't print it. No one says you have to! But, don't alter history. That's dishonest. That's unprofessional. That's irresponsible. And, it's flat out wrong.

Should drinking games be part of your business strategy?

Have you ever played the drinking game called "I never..."? Someone says something they've never done and if you've done it, you drink. I think there is a lot a business person could learn from implementing this drinking game into their business plan (the concept minus the alcohol, of course). In fact, if you're a true innovator, you should be falling on the floor, slurring your words, can't pass a sobriety test drunk, right?

It is so easy to get stuck in a rut. If it's not broken, why fix it? Well, what if it is broken? Or what if it works, but it could be a heck of a lot better? People who succeed take chances. They follow the path less traveled. They're adventurers. They're risk takers. They're always trying something new. They can't say "I never...".

So, think about it. You're in a room filled with your competitors. People you want to dominate. You want to steal their market share. Chip away at their profits. Win over their customers. Beat them! But, before you can do that, it's time to play a round of "I never...". Will you be a sloppy drunk? Or a teatotaler? In this rare instance, I've gotta say, if you wanna be the winner, you have to be the drunk (so to speak, of course).

The next time you're working on that business plan, marketing campaign, or product launch, think about "I never...".  What have you never done? And is it time that you start?

2 cheap tickets + 1 thank you = loyal customer

Technology is great, but I'm a sucker for an old-fashioned hand-written note. Better yet, drop that note in the mail so I have something in my box other than junk mail and bills and I get lightheaded with glee. Nothing beats getting good mail.

Now, onto the back story. This week, I was lucky enough to attend the L.A. Dodgers versus Chicago Cubs game courtesy of Klout and Score Big. Score Big is a new site that allows users to bid for tickets to get better prices. Ask friends to join, they get a $10 coupon and you get a $10 credit to use toward future purchases. Score Big incentivizes you to tell your friends about the site. I like that. The site is easy to use and the seats were great (unfortunately, random bad luck put the four loudest, most belligerent people in the row behind us).

So, what does this have to do with my aforementioned excitement about getting something unexpected in the mail? Well, after I ordered my tickets through Score Big, imagine my surprise when I received this:

Aja actually took the time to write a note to thank me for using Score Big. I can't remember the last time the guy at the convenience store or the girl at the market thanked me for my purchase. It just doesn't happen anymore. But, Aja picked up a pen, put it to paper, tucked the note into an envelope, and addressed it by hand. Something so simple, yet so appreciated. So old school, yet so classic. Thanking people is timeless.

When was the last time you said thank you to your customers, your clients, your colleagues, or even a stranger? Try it. It wins instant friends and long term loyalty. And, it doesn't break the bank.

Oh, and if you would like an invite to check out Score Big (which includes a $10 coupon!), just let me know in the comments below. There is currently a waiting list to join the site, but I have ten invitations to share with my readers!
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