Waiting for Bob Driscoll (Verizon) to call

I hear that Bob Driscoll is an important guy at Verizon. I hear he understands customer service. His message on my answering machine not long ago gave me that swooning, warm feeling of being love and appreciated: “We  appreciate your business. Let us know if your problem has been resolved..”

Now, of course, that is not really true– I mean the love. My relationship with Verizon is painful.  Painful to me, the customer,  that is.  Since June 2010 I have been asking for a simple thing:  a bundle phone and upgraded FIOS deal. It ain’t happening despite my monthly calling, despite promises, despite being recorded every month on a meaningless tape where I commit to a two year relationship on my new deal.

Here’s what Verizon Customer service people are good at:

  • Saying “NO!”: “I don’t know why we can’t help you,” “I am not going to apologize for what someone else did before me”  
  • Adding things I don’t ask for and don’t need (Starz Play and Security Suite, etc), insisting that I should at least give them a try (in a pretty irritated, get-a-life-lady, tone of the voice)
  • Making me call a million times to cancel that which I did not order   
  • Making me call every month to inquire why the product I have ordered is not there (the bundle of joy mentioned above), and then putting me in my place for asking
  • Refusing to give me a follow up after they have done the work on my account

You tell me Bob—what can a girl do to get a Verizon upgrade (and some polite follow up with it)?   

And by the way, since we are on the topic of customer service, don’t pull a Verizon on your customers.

Carry a Paint Brush– How to be the Artistic Director of your Own Career! (Isn’t it time?)

The life we build for ourselves (our reputation, our career, the jobs we have, etc ) is a reflection of who we are. Nothing more, nothing less, no excuses accepted.  My friend, Susanne Goldstein, is a cool chick who has shaped her life big enough to do creative work with clients, and to do fun work for herself as an engineer, a film producer, a product designer, and a career coach/strategist advising people on how to promote their own personal brand. She draws on her very successful and eclectic career to offer frameworks that help us answer core questions related to happiness in work and increased creativity in life.

Her new book “Carry A Paint Brush – How to be the Artist Director of your Own Career” is now available on Amazon. This is a great book with very clear directions and empowering, creative exercises. It speaks to the soon- to –graduate-where- is- my- life going young person, as well as to the older mid- career-in –transition-confused-about-what- new—direction–to–take.  

The best part of all is that the techniques she describes in the book apply to many areas of one’s life. Are you waiting to be picked by an employer, a movie producer, a new business partner? Learn how to do the picking yourself. Are you a bit awkward about networking? Learn how to network “by fives” (ask five people for five minutes of their time). Are you at that point where you simply and plainly can’t move forward? There is a delightful exercise that works with passions, interests and capabilities to help one move into a place of personal power.

“Carry a Paint Brush” is for anyone looking to express their essence creatively (or who wants to learn “how to” create a personal brand), and for anyone who wants to make loads of money since they are having so much fun in the process!   Check out www.carryapaintbrush.com!

In any love affair– start with the beginning!

A client hired me to do a strategic audit to figure out how their services fit on the local market; to assess how their present and potential clients perceived their services; and most important, of course, how could they sign up more clients.

At one level, all these questions are connected. We should understand the market in depth to be able to offer services that clients need. At another level, one needs to start with the simplest thing to better understand the market:  learn from one’s customers and employees.

I advise clients that understanding the market and their customers is not the type of research to be undertaken as an audit, that is,  from time to time. Quite the opposite. Your company should have an ongoing strategic engagement plan with customers and with prospective clients. This strategic plan should help you:

  • Engage customers in an active feedback process and create an on-going assessment system that supports and spurs the sales process
  • KNOW and understand exactly what niche your products fill at all times
  • Create an internal monitoring system to alert you to similarities in client feedback — they may indicate new services or product opportunities
  • Continuously ask for referrals from existing clients (ask for only one name, not ten, and send a personal note to the customer, rather than a group email)
  • Find the balance between doing the tried- and- tested, and starting something new (innovation).

Sure, advertising for services using a number of different channels can be important (and costly), and showing up at local events to talk your clients’ language is great but not enough. And because I like very simple things, let me say this again: you should start with what you have and with what you know best:  your customers.

I am a little embarrassed to state such commonplace:  start with the first step, and with what you know. But I have heard clients all too often say: oh, I was too busy with *work*, to continue that ‘”marketing,” “sales” or “customer stuff” you did.

I mean– too busy to grow your business? There is no marketing, there is only growing a business—or increasing the bottom line, or whatever you want to call your “love affair” with your customers and with your small business.

For the client who hired me, I got the group of engineers together and we all came up with 1) old leads that could be revived 2) leads in their personal Rolodex 3) ideas on how to engage present clients 3) ideas on how to best communicate the brand to different groups or forums to which each of them belonged. And then, we implemented those ideas! In two months, they started to sign up new business.

So, yes, have a “love affair” with your clients and prospects—a mad, crazy love that pushes you to court, perform, exceed expectations and romance as often as you can.  And of course ask for reciprocity.

If you ask for only one referral from each of your 20 present clients, you might get five leads, and if you do your job well, you might sign up one or two. These leads come extra qualified. For the prospects that are not ready to give you their business, keep showing up patiently and with gifts in hand: invite these prospects to learn from you, to try your products, to accept your audit, to get a deal from you, and so on.

And then call again!  (If you have done your research and you know how you stand on your products and customer service). In the end,  it’ s all about patience, perseverance and personal presence!

And of course, everything takes three times longer than you think it does.

Business versus entrepreneurship?

I advise businesses and entrepreneurs on strategy: is an idea feasible? Will a new business create revenue?  What is the best new market for a particular niche opportunity? How do we communicate value and how do we incorporate best practices for customer service? 

These may seem as heavy issues pertaining to business, but it may surprise you how receptive kids are to these concepts. We use playful tools, such as mind maps and idea maps, to help them understand market research in context. We create maps with colorful images and use symbols that appeal to them to help them place their solo venture on the market and project revenue.

One of my students, Emma a 12 year old girl, created a little venture called “Cozy Clothes” and her idea was to sew and sell onesies for small babies.  Her competitive advantage, so to speak,  was her personalized approach and her strong network within her community. She was able to put together a list of people, create a communication campaign (of course learning to express herself and learning to write about her business were very important), and she started selling.  On her map there was a tree, and all the other businesses were featured as part of the tree, but not in a threatening way, all bold colors, while her business was depicted in her favorite pastel and on the top of the tree.

The tools I gave Emma pertain to the business domain: how to start, how to sell, how to negotiate, how to create a distribution channel, how to calculate revenue, and net worth—but the most important learning that she integrated belongs to the entrepreneurial realm: “I can do this”, “I am confident,” “I know how to engage my audience”, “I can sell”, “I know how to change route if this does not work”, “I trust I can start any new project in the future”.

And I bet that whatever job Emma chooses in the future, from working for a corporation to running her own, she will have a mindset that will help her not only to be successful –in the strictly social definition of the term– but to be engaged and accomplished as only someone who creates her own art can be.

Why start early?

Why start entrepreneurial education early? Because it gives the child courage and confidence to act, it teaches the child tools for problem solving, and it clears a lot of blocks to creative thinking that most of us accumulate during formative years.  An example:

In one of the recent KidzBusiness classes we were discussing pricing for a little group project.  While all the kids thought that the value we offered was pretty good, and that people might be interested in trying our concept, I discovered that they were resisting to charging for it. I was amazed. During a previous inquiry, they have offered positive connotations to money.

We went a little deeper with the inquiry:  was it acceptable to charge for a great experience, for instance, should we leave tip for dinner, or should we pay for someone who plans a great trip abroad, should we pay for a dating service? Answers were mixed. What I learned is that they thought that only a tangible exchange (something we can touch with our hands), or accepted services that everyone knew cost money (lawyer, dentist, doctor fees) warranted pay. Any new project, such as self publishing a book, building a new game or toy, anything yet untried, created a huge pricing anxiety as if their self worth was at stake and by having their project rejected, they were rejected themselves.

So here’s where entrepreneurial education (or map) can help remove some early blocks, that if left unquestioned, would interfere later in life with one’s ability to ask for a raise, for more time to complete a task at work, for help from a colleague, etc– and perhaps, might interfere with being able to present the world with an authentic (and coherent) personal brand.

Design thinking for kids- or how to give them a ‘map’

Imagine giving a group of kids the tasks and tools to build a new city. It’s play, of course, but you make it competitive and you announce that there will be prizes for one winner. There may be building blocks to be put together, rivers to be assembled, traffic zones, shops to be created, movie houses, etc. Each kid gets an assignment to build a part of the city, and the tools to do it.

There is a clock in the room, time is ticking loudly, and the anxiety rises as everybody rushes to complete the task. It’s a game but it is not play anymore. The only frame of mind in the room is that there are losers and winners, and everyone wants to win—which is not a bad thing when the conditions are right. The right place for winning is a collaborative environment where kids understand the big picture (why are we doing this),  which in this case, is to create a working city.  

Everybody completes their assigned tasks, you have a winner, and now time has come to assemble the city. It really does not matter who won and who lost because the pieces do not fit together. So the guidance I offer kids is to explore with others what the right city looks like, to make decisions together, to build a first prototype, to try it out for fit, to experience new ideas, re-do the work if necessary and use everyone’s talent to build a functional city.  In order words, kids learn to design a business with the goals of value, functionality, ease of use and style/beauty in mind.

This way, they became competitive to create the best project ever, rather than to own a piece of it. This is a metaphor as much as a real online entrepreneurial game we are creating at KidzBusiness.  The idea is to learn through play, and to be flexible in choosing best approaches rather than be fixated on using particular tools. There are many business tools we can choose once we learn to ‘design’  the learning journey, and we get clear about the business we want to develop.

Why teach teens entrepreneurship?

 

It’s almost a year now that I teach kids entrepreneurship through KidzBusiness, www.kidzbusiness.com, and I get many questions about the meaning and importance of teaching entrepreneurship at an early age.

Today’s teens have certain paths available to them – and they get the message that it is better to be a surgeon rather than a mechanic, be a lawyer rather than a school teacher, and be a movie star rather than a bus driver. Parents may bring their kids to work to show them the daily mechanics of their jobs, thinking that it helps kids understand what it is like to make a living and to be responsible.

There is an extra element that parents should consider when they are trying to expose their kids to the professions they have chosen for themselves, and that element is the parents’ interaction with their jobs.  Are parents happy with what they do? If there are conflicting messages such as “be a movie star! but I AM ONE, and I am not happy” kids may internalize the cognitive dissonance, and will have challenges in deciding their own path for self expression.

The way most educational systems operate today, kids are offered tools but not a clear understanding what to do with them, and little insight into why one choice is better than another, except when related to making money, or a good living. Sometimes, a good living happens at the expense at one’s true calling.   In the absence of early, authentic explorations, a ‘good living’ choice may turn out to be very unsatisfactorydespite the money made. 

The exploration I am envisioning starts with a conversation: What do I like in life? What do I do well? Where is the possibility to contribute now? Where do I start? How do I start? I do similar facilitation with my business clients, and we always finish with an action plan. The plan for the entrepreneurial child is simple: create a little prototype (be it a new game, a new solo venture, selling a product, a service, writing a blog, a series of ‘how to’ for other kids)  anything that moves the kid to self expression and action.  

There are very important reasons for these facilitated explorations for kids: we want to teach them to act (often) rather than let them be stuck in some sort of paralysis (due to too much thinking, or due to need for approval); we want to teach them the ability to solve problems creatively; educate them to be flexible in terms of choosing or creating new tools for action; we want to teach them solid ways to assess the big picture (the why).

Through action, and measurement of that action’s consequences (in a safe envirnonment, of course) kids learn to do the “picking” rather than wait to be picked. And picking is a much better paradigm for work and career than waiting to be chosen (by a college, by a hiring manager, by a superior for a raise, by a critic for a show, or by the Apprentice, etc).  In the work we do together, kids can say yes or no to a number of projects or actions, and they learn to  for collaborate and brainstorm with a group of peers in a very respectful and non-bullying way.