Build a Culture of Success Through Kindness

Customer care, support (help) and personal development concepts

Stephen Cannon became president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz in 2012. Though he was convinced about the quality of his cars, he recognized the success of his brand was rooted in the kindness of his people.

Cannon understood that the company, the true essence of Mercedes-Benz, was embodied by the people who sold and serviced the cars, including how generously they behaved.

“Every encounter with the brand must be as extraordinary as the machine itself,” Cannon said.

Cannon believed almost every touchpoint of the brand involved a personal encounter with a human being in a dealership. Representatives could act in ways that were memorable and honoring, or repetitive and dismissive. This was a grand vision, but how could Cannon impart a culture of connection and compassion to 23,000 employees at dealerships nationwide?

“There is no scientific process, no algorithm, to inspire a salesperson or a service person to do something extraordinary,” Cannon said. “The only way you get there is to educate people, excite them, incite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the occasion to do something arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”

Kindness is Contagious

In this leap of faith, Cannon challenged dealers and employees to perpetuate a grassroots movement that scattered kindness like a contagion.

This included spontaneous acts of generosity, like a dealer who noticed a buyer’s birthday on his closing documents and included a personalized cake when the customer came for the car. Or for a woman who panicked over a flat tire on the way to her son’s graduation. When mechanics could not locate a replacement tire for her model, the service manager jacked up the showroom model, removed one of its tires, and sent this mom on her way in a flash.

“We have so many stories like this,” Cannon says. “They’re about people going out of their way because they care enough to do something special.”

Beyond encouraging “extra mile” efforts, companies can build a culture of kindness in three areas:

Giving Back to the Community

Businesses that sponsor volunteer days enjoy team building, civic pride, and a more personal investment in their neighbors.

Today a growing number of companies participate in a one-for-one model: for every product sold, they give one matching item (or dollar amount) to a person in need. Or for every hour an employee volunteers, a matching dollar donation can be given as well. For example, Microsoft employees serving as Boy Scout leaders can simultaneously “bank” corporate dollars into scout scholarship accounts for those in need.

Offer Employee Autonomy

If you want generous employees, healthy working conditions are essential.

Younger people especially enjoy working for companies that allow flex scheduling, remote working options, or some ability to shape their physical environment. When employees feel empowered, they generate better results. When you convey a sense of trust in your employees, they’ll perform beyond expectations.

Build Personal Ownership

It is more natural for employees to show kindness if they are motivated by pride in what they do.

When Mercedes-Benz realized that nearly 70 percent of its front-line employees had never driven a car out of the dealership, the company put 800 new cars in the field, offering 48 hours of fun to each staff member. People drove their daughters for sweet 16 parties, chaperoned grandma on her 90th birthday, and snapped selfies to chronicle the adventure.

“The reactions were out of this world,” said general manager Harry Hynekamp said. “Sure, people got to know the cars very well. But the biggest piece was the pride piece.”

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How to Succeed in Remote Working Environments

Female student working on net-book after her lectures in University

In the past, ideas of “virtual work” might have included colleagues from a different country or visions of mysterious IT specialists who hacked your computer by day and only crept out at night.

Today, virtual work is woven into the fabric of our experience. Remote working is essentially using technology to conduct business, often with nearby colleagues. This may include:

  • Using e-mail or IM to conduct business with nearby colleagues (in your city or down your hallway)
  • Multi-site meetings involving video-conferencing or simulcast options
  • Flex-scheduling that allows employees to work part of the week from home

Virtual work is on the rise: a 2017 Gallup report found 43% percent of Americans work remotely to some degree. Fifty-six percent of software startups worldwide have outsourced their work (contributing to the demand for remote workers) and, according to research by Gartner, organizations that embrace remote working will increase employee retention rates by 10%.

While there are many advantages to enhanced technology, there are unique difficulties to overcome. Whether you’re keeping a team accountable or sharing instructions (but can’t point at someone’s computer screen over their shoulder), the demand for good communication has significantly increased!

Productive Virtual Relationships

What communication skills will you need to succeed in remote working relationships?

Whether you’re e-mailing your colleague across the table or uploading blueprints to a design specialist in another time zone, here are some guidelines to grow your skills:

Establish Rules of Engagement

When working face-to-face, the style of communication evolves naturally.

You don’t barge through a door when it is shut or get offended if someone pauses after you ask a question. But since we lose non-verbal cues in remote working, it’s important to establish connection guidelines. Your team should discuss what technology you will use, how often to correspond, and the preferred method of communication. If one person enjoys e-mail but another sends 10 texts per hour, tension can build quickly. A multi-tasking supervisor may prefer to connect once a day, while a project manager might want hourly updates. If you’re not sure where to begin, ask your team:

  •    What time of the day is best to catch you?
  •    What times are off limits?
  •    Is it ever ok to send a text message?
  •    What is the best way to share files?
  •    How should we connect offline if confusion arises?
  •    How will we eliminate lost or duplicated work?

Build Trust

Before starting a project, it’s important for colleagues to establish a foundation.

To build relational trust, have one face-to-face (or video-conference) meeting to gain confidence in each other. Include simple social elements (questions that are sincere but not overly personal), share some of your own interests and career aspirations, and let a friendship develop naturally.

When colleagues work remotely, they’re not as confident that you are looking out for their best interests. Seek to affirm good work or have a little fun, even just light-hearted online banter.

Demonstrate Competence

Take the initiative in giving regular progress updates, completing projects on time, or voicing questions and concerns before they spiral out of control.

Without nonverbal cues, silence can be damaging, so respond to e-mails quickly and honestly, even if you need more time to resolve an issue. Restate questions in your own words to ensure you are understanding any problems and be honest if you feel someone is hindering the workflow of your team.

Maintaining strong, productive virtual relationships takes extra tact and attention, but these contacts can lead to years of fruitfulness. Sow seeds of intentionality now and enjoy a high yield in years to come.

7 Signs That You are A Bad Boss (and 4 Ways to Grow

Angry business man boss screaming at himself small in megaphone

If you haven’t had a frustrating boss in your life, then you are part of a slim minority.

Most of us have experienced a manager that’s driven us to frustration or brought us to tears. Here are some “Bonehead Boss” stories from CBS News to make you grimace:

1 – After months of hard work, I closed a deal for $7,000,000. My customer bought the equipment because of our strong personal relationship and my company’s technical capabilities. Six months later they doubled the order. My bosses, thinking that they had closed the deal, limited my commission to a fraction of what it should have been. I found a new job and quit. A week later my customer moved the order to my new company.

2 – I had worked at a camp for five summers during college when my best friend unexpectedly died from heart failure. When I returned from the funeral, my grandfather was on his deathbed. Obviously upset, I approached my boss and explained the situation. She said “Well, you’ll have to get over it and get on with your life. I can’t let you go again.” My grandfather died the next week. When I told my boss about his upcoming funeral she said, “You should have planned better, you have no bereavement time left.”

Ouch.

What if the Bad Boss is You?

Whether its disrespect, micro-managing, or verbal abuse, bad experiences with a boss can make people dread going to work each day.

But what if the bad boss is you?

According to the 2017 “Bad Boss Index” from Bamboo HR, here are seven mistakes managers frequently make. They:

  • Take credit for stuff they didn’t do
  • Don’t appear to trust or empower their employees
  • Don’t seem to care if their people are overworked
  • Don’t advocate for employee compensation
  • Don’t back up employees when there’s a dispute between staff and company clients
  • Don’t set clear expectations or provide proper direction on assignments/roles
  • Focus more on employee weaknesses than strengths

How many of these characteristics apply to your leadership?

If you can relate, consider talking with your employees and asking how you can improve. Try to understand the impact of your faults and use this as motivation to change. People will trust you more when you are honest about your weakness.

Four Steps For Growth as a Leader

As you listen and implement change, here are four steps toward positive change:

1. Ask honest questions and listen without becoming defensive.

Even if only a part of the criticism is true, your ability to sift through exaggeration (without rejecting feedback entirely) will grow you in leadership and character.

2. Deal with feedback directly.

Don’t discount a complaint or place the blame on others. Seek accountability and ownership for how others perceive you.

3. Take immediate action.

Give affirmation to the feelings and requests of others and look for two or three quick changes you can make to remedy frustration.

Try to sow in the opposite spirit: if you micromanage, be more intentional about delegating. If you criticize too often, seek to encourage more.

4. Establish weekly leadership goals and share them with someone you trust.

Have someone (a neutral friend or respected co-worker) hold you accountable for necessary changes, and schedule check-ins for at least one month as you move ahead.

Remember, a person who feels appreciate will often do more than you expect. Take ownership over your leadership and your team will flourish as you grow!

Build Momentum with Contests that Make Your Customers Smile

Vector Box Giveaway Competition Template

Baltimorons (I’m one)  can’t stand talking about the Yankees and the Sox but Boston was overjoyed again as their darling RedSox capped off a 5-1 series victory over the Dodgers to take the 2018 World Series title.

The championship was well deserved, as Boston won a record 119 games, more victories than any World Series champion except the 1998 Yankees. “Now we deserve to be known as the greatest Red Sox team of all time,” said infielder Brock Holt.

If the RedSox are not the greatest, they are certainly the most loved. According to numbers crunched by Bundle, Boston fans are “America’s most obsessed baseball fans.” Bundle’s stats include money spent on tickets, food, and merchandise, including neighborhood restaurants and bars. From May of 2003 to April 2013, the Red Sox sold out every home-game seat – a total of 820 games for a major professional sports record!

The “Perfect Game” Promotion

One Boston retailer recognized this passion and tapped into the momentum.

In 2013, Jordan’s Furniture held a “Perfect Game” promotion with one simple premise: any fan buying furniture or merchandise before May 5 would receive the furniture for free if a Red Sox pitcher threw a perfect game between July 17 and October 1. While that perfect game never materialized, the contest was certainly a home run. In 2014, Jordan’s offered a new promotion: if the Sox could repeat their 2013 World Series victory, everyone who bought furniture between before May 18, 2014, would get a full rebate on their purchase!

Jordan’s grabbed local excitement and used it as fuel for sales. And why not? A wonderful way to build brand loyalty is by making your customers smile. Like a “kiss a pig” contest generates giving, you can grow marketing engagement with an entertaining contest of your own. Here are three examples to get your creative juices flowing:

1. Get Them Snapping.

People love to snap and share photos, especially of themselves.

Capitalize on that obsession with personalized photo contests! Any photo contest can begin with these words: “Show us your _____.” Contestants then take photos that demonstrate their best, their worst, their ugliest, their cutest, etc.

Perhaps the winner of the ugliest couch gets a free upgrade from your showroom. Maybe the cutest baby picture nets a year of free diapers. The craziest bedhead gets a free cut and style from your salon. Get them sharing and enjoy the results!

2. Get Them to Go Wild.

In this scenario, customers capture shots of themselves using your product “in the wild.”

This contest could include video or traditional photo categories and might also be used as a monthly or bi-annual promotion. Winners receive a prize, a service credit, or a gift card.

When you publicize the contest, include questions that might draw fun testimonials as well. Feature results in your newsletters, social media posts, or in hilarious product reviews!

3. Get Them Celebrating.

What food do you adore? Do others love it too?

Get their taste buds tingling by building contests around minor secular observances like national doughnut day, coffee day, s’more day, etc. (Run a quick internet search of “national food days” for inspiration!)

Seasonal contests allow you to foster anticipation every year, especially during your off seasons. Ask people to vote on their favorite pie flavor then serve samples. Ask contestants to guess the number of Ghiradelli chocolates in your vase on National Chocolate Day. Ask for sweetest first date stories and give away a Valentine’s Day package at a local restaurant or hotel.

Your city, like ours doesn’t have the best teams but we still have things to root for. Make customers smile and keep your name front and center all year!

Use Self-Mailers to Boost Your Visibility

Travel photo collage

Looking to target prospects with confident, eye-catching designs?

Consider a self-mailer that you send through the U.S. Postal Service’s EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) program. This cost-effective marketing solution helps you target individual zip codes or carrier routes for a significantly reduced cost.

What is a Self-Mailer?

A self-mailer is something that can be mailed without an envelope, including anything from a simple postcard to an elaborate booklet.

Self-mailers are a great medium for stunning photos and eye-catching graphics. While e-mail inboxes are currently overflowing, physical mailboxes are not. A splashy, bold design holds great potential to be seen and shared!

A superb self-mailer can have several advantages over envelope mailings:

1. Self-mailers cost less.

Self-mailers are simple: often, they have just one sheet of paper (no need to stuff envelopes or match the contents of your letter with its packaging). Postage can be cheaper for a self-mailer, especially when you use postcards or fold-over flyers.

2. Self-mailers are more likely to be seen, remembered, or shared.

While envelope mailings are typically opened and read by just one person, self-mailers are often passed along to others or laid in visible places like the kitchen counter. Coupons or event invitations are placed on the fridge or in strategic visible locations. The bold graphics and easy accessibility of self-mailers can help people remember your message long after it’s been sent.

3. Self-mailers help you connect with loyal customers.

Whether you’re promoting an event or sending product notifications, targeting previous customers can dramatically increase response rates. Self-mailers send a personal message in a vibrant, practical package.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Self-mailers can be used as postcards offering discounts on home maintenance and repairs, as fold-over letters from community leaders, as fundraising pieces from non-profits, as brochures and pamphlets, or even for product inventory catalogs.

These flexible products bring a clean design, a clear message, and concrete results. Looking for EDDM tips or for full graphic design services for your mailer? We’ve got years of experience and we’re just a phone call away. Give us a call today!

True Empathy Can Win the Day

Comforting friend

A farmer had a litter of puppies for sale. As he was driving the last nail into his advertising yard sign, he felt a tug at his overalls. “Mister,” said a boy at his feet, “I want to buy a puppy.”

“Well,” said the farmer, “These puppies come from fine parents and cost lots of money. How much do you have?”

The boy dropped his head momentarily, then drew several coins from his pocket. “I don’t have much, but is this enough to take a look?”

The farmer paused reluctantly but before he could answer three puppies rolled out of the doghouse. One tiny, awkward pup hobbled behind. The boy’s eyes lit up. “I want that one,” he exclaimed, pointing to the runt. The man shook his head solemnly. “Son, that puppy will never be able to run and play like the others.”

The boy rolled up his trousers to reveal a steel brace running down both sides of one leg. “I do want that puppy. I don’t run too well myself, and he’ll need someone who understands him.”

That day the boy won the puppy because he moved the farmer’s heart. Why? Because empathy impacts people. Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions and to imagine how they might be thinking or feeling. Empathy is essential to human interactions because it allows us to connect in authentic ways and to offer helpful words, comfort, or assistance. Empathy is essential in every human interaction but is especially significant for those in customer service.

Empathy Begins with Real Listening

Would you like to be more successful in minimizing difficult situations or by helping customers overcome their hesitations as you’re trying to make a sale?

All empathy begins with real listening. As you listen with empathy, ask questions like:

  • “How is this situation affecting you?”
  • “Can you tell me more about _____?”
  • “What do you think would be your ideal outcome here?”

As a person processes, take care not to interrupt. While you may not be equipped to address their concerns, asking empathetic questions can shift your focus to listen more effectively, opening new lines of communication and diffusing tension so everyone can move forward.

Empathy involves reflective listening, using phrases that demonstrate your understanding. Phrases that show customers you are taking customers seriously might include:

  • “I can understand how frustrating it is when . . .”
  • “I see this is very complicated/upsetting.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that and I’ll do my best to help.”

Pair Compassion with Action

As you communicate compassion, be ready to follow your words with action.

Take ownership of a situation by following up immediately, by referring it to a superior, or by positively addressing both the person and the problem. Phrases like, “ok, we can fix this,” or “let’s get this sorted out right away,” will reassure customers you’re taking ownership of the problem.

Action-based empathy also means thinking outside the box for large-scale change. Erin Henkel, portfolio director at the IDEO global design and innovation company, says often positive innovation begins with empathy:

“Effective companies need employees who constantly imagine themselves in the customer’s shoes. As they make the customer’s problems their own, they are better able to meet expectations, make necessary changes, and to retain customer loyalty for another day.”

Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a hallmark of intelligent leadership and of excellent teamwork. Work hard to grow empathy and you will open new lines of communication, create greater understanding, and help everyone achieve common goals.

Gain the Mouth-Watering, Competitive Advantage

paper plane on white background, Business competition concept.

In 2011, Matt Salzberg was a restless associate at a Silicon Valley investment firm. He and his friend Ilia Papas wanted to create a business and were intrigued by food.

“We both loved food,” Salzberg said. “We liked trying new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques, but we found it really inaccessible to cook at home. It was expensive, time-consuming and difficult to find recipes that we trusted.”

The duo tried a few ideas before landing on the one that became Blue Apron: give people an easy way to make dinner using chef-recommended recipes and the fresh, precisely measured ingredients they’d need. With 20 friends beta-testing the product, Salzberg immediately realized they had a winner. Beyond rave reviews and contagious social media sharing, they had undeniable momentum:

“Pretty much from day one we’ve had steady exponential customer growth. I think the moment we did our first week of deliveries we sort of knew that we had a business that we thought would be really successful.”

By August 2012 the team was shipping recipes to early testers, and three years later Blue Apron was delivering millions of meals to monthly subscribers, the company valued at a whopping $2 billion!

Find Your Competitive Advantage

Initially, some scoffed at the thought of paying restaurant prices for something you labored to cook at home.

But they overlooked Blue Apron’s unique advantage: appealing to “foodies” who loved high-end meals but relished the opportunity to cook them. Blue Apron found a niche in the market that catapulted them to exponential growth and national exposure.

Competitive advantage is that “special something” that draws customers and keeps them coming back.

Why do you buy a Ford versus Chevy? Why do you spend $80 on a certain brand of jeans? The answer lies in the competitive advantage, the unique set of features a product has that makes it superior in the eyes of a target audience.

Competitive advantages include niche strategies (like Blue Apron), cost advantages, and product or service differentiation. Consider these examples:

Cost Competitive Advantage

Companies can grab an edge when they control costs and efficiency in ways that create maximum value for consumers.

Walmart uses this advantage by providing a large selection combined with low prices through its retail size and strength. Some companies draw from years of experience, overseas production, or streamlined workflows to minimize expense.

As you brainstorm cost advantages for your customers, consider how you can improve productivity from your team, if your technology or equipment is cost-efficient or needs upgrading, or where you can give customers a cost break via delivery options, locked-in service rates, or freebies that come as a bonus for specific orders.

Product Differentiation

Another way to gain a competitive advantage is through product differentiation.

As you distinguish yourself in the marketplace, focus on the value you offer through your unique products. What makes your toothbrush one of a kind? How is your technology superior to other market options? How does your farmer’s market produce outclass the bounty of your competitors?

People love getting the best product for their penny, so work hard to highlight your advantage and shout it loud through print and digital pieces that spotlight your strengths.

Service Differentiation

While cost or product advantages can quickly disappear (or be duplicated), every company can offer one-of-a-kind service advantages.

Whether its bundled subscriptions, outstanding customer care, or unrivaled warranties, build a benefit that is exclusively yours. Consider bonus delivery features, apps that are user-friendly and easy to learn, terms that are simple and risk-free, or energizing ambiance (like funky décor or stellar store atmospheres). Make customers so spoiled they’d never consider your competitors! We spoil our customers with promises kept. Call Patti today at 410-574-0780.