Jan 09

Why I don’t have cable TV

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.

(Below, Apple computer ad, Time Magazine, November 1985.)

Xlg_apple_IIC_0 Xlg_apple_IIC_1Some monthly bills are a fact of life: Electricity, gas, water. Many people include cable TV in that list. I don’t. Instead I have internet TV – here’s why.

1 – Cable TV is expensive
There are a lot of differences between living in the UK and America, as this expat can testify. One big difference is the cost of TV. I was staggered when I arrived in America and looked at cable TV options. $60 for a basic package!? Per month!? In the UK most people have a TV aerial in their loft (attic) with which they receive free-to-air channels. True, for much of my life there were only four channels to choose from, but since the introduction of digital broadcasts and “Freeview” set-top boxes, most people receive approximately 30 channels, including cable staples such as history, food and news channels. You can buy a “Freeview” box for about £50 ($70). Here the cable companies charge $8.99 a month to rent a set-top box, and that is before the $60 for the content. $800 per year when I am used to a one off $70? No thank you. Instead I bought a smart Blu-ray player for $150 and I pay a combined $20 per month for Hulu+ and Netflix.

2 – I don’t do appointment viewing
Life’s busy, traffic happens and babies poop at inconvenient times. This, and a whole load of other reasons, is why DVRs were invented. The next logical step from DVRs though is total on demand viewing. This is what internet TV is. There is no such thing  as “putting the box on.” Having Netflix, Hulu or Amazon means you have to make an active choice in what you watch, not passively watch whatever happens to be on. I find I am now more selective and I watch less TV as a result.

3 – I want to watch a world of content
Growing up in southern Britain, I always wished the French would crank up the wattage on their TV transmitters. Not only is French TV saucier, but if I could have watched French channels, I would have earned better grades in French class. With internet TV, I can get French programming, German, Indian and much more. True, Bollywood movies aren’t really my cup of tea, but watching international events through the lens of an Indian news channel is fascinating. Moreover, I can watch British TV channels and my daughter can stay connected with the characters from her favorite BBC shows.

There are downsides to internet TV. There are delays before some shows become available, watching lives sports is practically impossible and there are quality and occasional buffering issues. But, for me, those are minor compared to the advantages.

The internet has shaken up many industries (music) and almost destroyed others (newspapers). However, it seems the TV industry of the 2000s has learnt a lesson from the music industry of the 1990s. Instead of using a big stick to confront the revolutionary change the internet has brought about (catching the pennies by shutting down Napster and missing the pounds by letting Apple own digital music),  the major networks got ahead of the game by setting up Hulu.com, the go-to destination for internet TV. The Hulu experience is still spotty, but with the backing of the networks it is sure to improve. I just hope the price doesn’t go up with the quality.

Jan 06

Simply Botched Service

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer and RepChatter co-host Deb Brown.

In 2010, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA New York City Transit decided to put a new type of bus service into action on First and Second Avenues: the Select Bus Service (the bus with the blue lights), which is supposed to speed up the buses by 20 percent. Two months ago, the City decided to expand the program up and down 34th Street. Instead of paying on the bus, you need to insert your MetroCard into one of two free-standing kiosks by the bus stop and get a receipt. You can then enter through any door. This is similar as to how you would get on a subway car – you pay first and then get on any car.

In theory, this seems like a good idea. I’m sure the City believes it’s demonstrating that it’s innovative in finding new solutions to move people faster and having riders feel more positive about the transit system. However, as a daily rider of the 34th Street bus, the slogan “Select Bus Service: Simply Better Service” doesn’t ring true. Here’s why:

First, since November, from my experience, at least 30-40 percent of the time one or both kiosks are either out of service and/or the paper receipt doesn’t come out. The kiosk is happy to take the $2.25 from your MetroCard, it just decides not to give you a receipt. This poses a problem if the transit police decide to check.

Second, if the transit police decide to randomly check a bus, and you explain that the paper receipt didn’t come out, they will still issue you a $115 fine. Why they don’t have mobile readers that can check your MetroCard to see if you paid is beyond me. I still don’t have a clear answer as to how you fight the ticket and prove that you paid.

Third, if both kiosks are out of service at one of the stops, EVERYONE who got on at that stop must get off at the next stop and pay and get a receipt. Talk about defeating the purpose of this bus! It’s supposed to speed up the ride, yet imagine 20 or more riders at a stop getting off to get a receipt and then get back on.

Fourth, if you’re running for a bus, you may make it if you just pay on the bus. But, if you’re running for a Select Bus, you now have to take several more seconds to hit start, put in your MetroCard, and wait for the receipt (if it comes out). I have witnessed some kind bus drivers who patiently wait for the rushed riders, and I have seen others who leave just as the person receives his/her receipt, leaving the poor rider to wait for the next bus.

Fifth, one objective of the MetroCard was to eliminate paper receipts for transfers. Now, we have paper receipts just to get on the bus.

Sixth, two stops were eliminated from 34th Street: Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue. This speeds up the ride, of course, but also makes for some unhappy passengers who used to get on or off at those stops.

Seventh, one of the two M34 buses turns on 34th Street and Second Avenue and proceeds to 23rd Street and First Avenue. At that First Avenue stop, there’s no kiosk. The City apparently didn’t realize that you can’t put kiosks there for some reason (probably because there isn’t enough room). So, anyone who gets on that stop gets on for free.

Eighth, I’m sure there are some who are skipping the kiosk altogether and simply getting on for free, which is frustrating to all of us who pay. It’s like jumping the turnstiles in the subway, only a lot easier.

The City should consider changing its slogan to “Select Bus Service: Simply Botched Service.”

Jan 05

Press # now to purchase a decent call center system

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.

Telephone-Head-Costumes-1“Customer service can’t be turned on or off like a tap, it’s either part of the culture of an organization or it isn’t.” I heard that line from an executive at John Lewis, the quality British department store so famed for its customer service.

What never fails to amaze me though is that even if money can’t buy an improvement in customer service from your human employees, money certainly can buy a decent call center system. Why is it that some companies make it so easy while others seem to be intent on confusing and frustrating the customer? Some examples:

The Phone Company – I had been overcharged for some international calls. Mistakes happen. The important thing is how they are dealt with. I called the 1-800 number. “Hi, thanks for calling, this is Sam in Boise, Idaho, how can I help?” I explained the situation. Sam pulled out his calculator, worked out what I was charged and what I should have been charged and said the difference would be refunded on my next bill. Problem solved in less than five minutes.

Insurance (Vision) – I lost my insurance card so I called to get a new one. I gave some details, they gave me some numbers and within five minutes I was downloading a new card from the website. A call center agent and a website saying the same thing? That doesn’t happen often.

The Bank – My bank has perhaps the best automated telephone system I have come across. In fact, most of the time everything you need can be done automatically. One of the best things about my bank’s system is that it isn’t patronizing. It doesn’t t-a-l-k  s-o  s-l-o-w-l-y  y-o-u  t-h-i-n-k  y-o-u  m-i-g-h-t SCREAM! It talks at a decent pace with the minimum garble necessary. Also, if you do need to speak to a real person you get passed to one of their delightful and helpful people, who I believe are located in India.  Jolly nice people those Indians.

BCIS – Formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Bureau for Citizenship and Immigration Services should be a vast monster of government incompetence and rudeness. However, I kid you not when I say it is a case study in efficiency, politeness and helpfulness. Considering the bureaucratic nightmare that immigrating to the ‘Land of the Free’ is I am amazed that they can do anything useful. But whenever I have dealt with an official from the BCIS I have walked away in wonderment at why private sector companies with paying customers can’t do better.

Speaking of which, here are some other examples:

Insurance (Car) – I called to cancel my policy. First mistake. I called the main number and was told “We don’t handle that here, you need to call the St Louis office.” Could they just transfer me? No. I needed to hang up and call a non-free phone number. I called St Louis. “Yes” was the greeting when they picked up the phone. They couldn’t deal with my request on the phone. Only take my details and promise that it would be dealt with and I would get a cancellation notice in the mail. To be fair, that is exactly what happened, but the process didn’t instill me with confidence in the organization or the people I was dealing with.

Appliance Company – I ordered a new filter for my fridge. Two weeks later it had not arrived. I called the main number on the website. Unbeknown to me I was transferred to a parts supplier. I gave my details but there was no record of my order. This was because they were just the supplier and didn’t have access to the customer service information. I needed to call back between 8.00 am and 5.00 pm ET so I could speak to customer service. Seriously? 8-5 ET? So, you don’t give a hoot about customers on the west coast? Next day, short on time and at work, I try the online chat function. I gave all my info but they have no record of my info and suggest I call customer service. I call. I was told my filters shipped 10 days after placing the order and they should be here in 7-10 days. Thanks for keeping me updated about that. I gave you my email address for what exactly?

DVLA – It’s not a private sector company but the British Drivers and Vehicle Licensing Agency has the most infuriating phone system known to man, or at least this man. It has more options than a Japanese buffet but I can tell you now, after going through almost a dozen layers of “press one for X” then “press five for Y” you will hear this: Information regarding X can be found on our website www.dvla.gov.uk” It once took me 30 minutes to figure out how to speak to a human.

According to Emily Yellin, author of “Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us” and consultant to Peppercom, an American-based customer service agent costs approximately $7.50 per phone call, outsourcing the agent to another country brings the average cost down to about $2.35 per call and having customers take care of the problem themselves reduces the cost to 32 cents per call, or contact. Well, I don’t think I am the only one to think my phone company’s  $7.50 investment in Sam’s phone call with me has made me a $100+ per month customer for life.

But, as I said at the start, it is not just about putting a human on the phone. Much can be accomplished with automated phone systems, just make sure you buy the right one and invest in the right consultant to help you install and run it.

Jan 04

We Can Hear You Now

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Maggie O'Neill.

As we all come back to our desks and start to think about business in 2012, it’s the 2011 whiplash from large company about-faces that has me thinking.  In 2011, the power of the consumer went from “consumer as king” to consumer as the king, CEO, We-hear-youprime minister and more.  From Verizon’s most recent U-turn on online charges to Bank of America’s drop of a $5 debit card fee to Netflix’s new company, ha just kidding emails, this has been the year consumers fought back…and won.

Verizon, the most recent example, was the quickest turn-around of all of them in late December.  The company decided to charge customers $2 for phone and online payments, hoping to push for more auto payments.  It didn’t work and customers walked…and walked loudly.  And Verizon changed their minds almost immediately. 

So what does this say about companies trying to make smart business decisions in 2012.  Looking at what seems like short-minded decisions by these large companies in 2011, it’s obvious that there was a business goal behind them.  Some more obvious than others.  But who was looking out for the customer?  Did they all really think that their service or product was not a commodity in today’s over-commoditized world?  A place where a loyal consumer can just sign-off with one click and be lost forever to a competitor?

Also, with all of the listening tools out there, all of the open consumer platforms and all of the noise consumers made with each of the prior company decisions, didn’t someone think about the backlash?  Couldn’t each of these decisions have been based more on what consumers were clamoring for – and what they would tolerate – rather than just what the company decided? 

So what have we learned from 2011?  Well the customer learned that they have more power to make change than they knew, and they will continue to do so unless companies pay more attention to customer service and what their base is saying.  As for brand decision makers, we need to listen more, continue to respond quickly, and build business and campaigns with customers in mind first.  As for the Verizons of the world, and the rest of us, consumers we can “hear you now.”

Jan 03

Are you bowled over?

Today's Guest blog by Greg Schmalz, president, Schmalz Communications.  (RepMan is off climbing mountains again and I have been offered an opportunity to contribute to this spot while he’s continuing his higher education.- Greg)

BowlgamesEvery year football is synonymous with the holiday season. And while I have been around sports for more than four decades, the college gridiron season continues to get longer and longer.  And this is what’s known as the bowl season. It’s comparable to professional sports playoffs. Yet, it seems to drag on.

I can remember where the major college bowl games were limited to four – the Cotton, the Orange, the Sugar and, of course, the granddaddy of them all – the Rose Bowl.

But through the years, the list continues to grow.  Would you believe there are 35 bowl games this season?  The bowl season kicked off on December 17, 2011 and will not end until Jan. 9 when Louisiana State plays Alabama for the national championship.

Are all of these games necessary?  Are they truly meaningful?

There are five BCS (Bowl Championship Series) bowl games – Orange, Sugar, Rose and Fiesta Bowls, plus the national championship game.  But, my, have times changed.  Naturally, corporate sponsorship is tied to these games and they often change.  I can remember the FedEx Orange Bowl.  Well, the game is no longer played in the Orange Bowl in Miami as that stadium has been torn down and now Discover Card is the title sponsor.

The Sugar Bowl, which originally was played in Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, is now played in the Mercedes-Benz (formerly Louisiana) Superdome.

But back to my original question.  Are all of these games necessary?  Through Christmas Day, seven bowl games were played from St. Petersburg, Florida to Honolulu, Hawaii.  On average, these games drew less than 30,000 fans.

Some conferences are locked into certain bowls games.  To become bowl eligible, a team only needs to win six games against Division 1 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools.

Consider this.  Of the 35 games (70 teams), 13 teams with a 6-6 record are playing in bowl games.  And another 15 teams are just 7-5.  And UCLA, which finished 6-7 for the season, qualified because USC – which won the Pac-12s South Division – was ruled ineligible to compete in a bowl game this season.  So, 29 teams or 41.4 percent of the bowl teams have a record of 7-5 or worse.

For some of these schools, their regular season ended in November. For others who played in conference championships, they played into the first week of December.  But students had exam week and may have had been on break.  Now, they come back to practice again to get ready for a bowl game.  To some, who had aspirations of playing in one of those major bowls game and came up short, playing in a bowl game is meaningless.  But to others, they would be a little more motivated as it may be their first time to play in a bowl game or may be matched against a better team.

But is it worth all that travel and expense to play in front of half-filled stadiums?  Are sponsors getting their bang for their buck?  Do the layoffs the players have between the end of the regular season and the bowl games have a dramatic effect on the quality of play in the games?

For me, the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day games were most meaningful.  But even that has changed now.  With New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, football’s big boys (the National Football League) took center stage on the final week of the regular season while the college bowls were pushed back a day to yesterday.

So, what do you think?  Have you had enough football or do you think they’ll eventually get to 50 bowls or something along college basketball’s tournament with a field of 65?

I think they are diluting the product.  The quality of the game is suffering. In most cases, they become shootouts.  But if the fan base is not supporting the games, then why play them?

Hope all RepMan readers have had a nice holiday season and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous new year.

Dec 12

Six reasons why you should hire a consultant

KJ headshots 027Ken Jacobs* is a good friend and superb consultant to PR firms

"Why should we hire you? My senior executives and I should be able to do for ourselves what you say you’ll do for us. After all, we run a successful PR agency.”

It’s a question I’ve heard, and not infrequently, as a consultant to PR firms and coach for their leaders. I appreciate RepMan offering me this forum to answer that question.
My peers and I can bring much to your firm. Here are six reasons why you should consider working with one of us:

1.    We offer the one thing that’s impossible for you to have about your firm and yourself: objectivity. No matter how smart, insightful, or intuitive you are, it’s impossible for you to look at your business, your executives, and your own leadership style, without bias and with complete honesty. That’s because you’re in the middle of it. Our value comes from our outside-looking-in perspective.  

2.    We bring complete honesty. We’ll tell you what you may not want, but need, to hear for your business to thrive and grow. These are the truths that even your trusted employees may be reluctant to share. Why? Because we’re not dependent on you for our promotions, raises or bonuses. We don’t need to manage up, or sugar coat things. Sure, we’ll be diplomatic if we have to tell you “the baby’s ugly.” But we know that our value, and therefore our next assignment, is tied directly to our candor.

3.    One of the reasons we can do so is that your staff and clients will tell us things they won’t tell you. For your firm to grow, become a superior workplace, improve its processes, and enhance its client service, you need critical feedback from your staff and clients. But no matter how open your open-door policy, or how much you encourage your clients to have tough conversations with you, it’s often extremely difficult for these two critical groups to level with you. Because we’re trained in how to get people to share their real views, and we’re perceived as objective third parties, they’ll tell us what they’d never tell you. And then we’ll share it candidly. (Please see #2!)

4.    We’ve (just about) seen it all. We have valuable experience that you might not. Before we became consultants, it’s likely we worked in PR firms that are larger than yours, or helped our agencies grow from your firm’s size to the size you want it to be. We’ll willingly share the lessons learned in the trenches that led to our business success, and those we’ve gained from our “failures.”

5.    We can help you with your toughest problems. One I hear frequently is the challenge of managing Millennials. We’ve got many Boomer and GenX leaders who think they’re being asked to coddle staffers from the largest, fastest-growing part of the labor pool. For the record, they’re not, and understandably, Millennials resent this implication. That’s a potentially incendiary situation.  (If this is an issue for you, this article may help.)

6.    We’re expert in critical areas that can have a major impact on your success. So while you’ve been honing your firm’s strategic abilities, knowledge of your clients’ businesses, and digital and mobile capabilities, we’ve been studying how to  maximize agency profits, have difficult conversations, and foster a more fulfilling workplace environment.   

*Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, which helps PR and related communications firms grow and manage business, improve client service and client relationships, and enhance staff performance, motivation, communication and leadership skills. He blogs at http://kensviews.com.

Dec 05

How to Best Market Yourself in Your Resume

Today's guest post is by Emily Matthews.*

E-Mentoring-Virtual-Mentors_Real-Benefits1When looking for a job during a time of national economic instability, you can be sure that your competition for employment is going to be steep. While having a master’s degree or any sort of higher education can help you stand out from the crowd of other job hopefuls, there is an easy tip that anyone can use to help better his or her chances of landing that new job: give your resume a makeover so that you stand out. 

Think of a resume as an employer’s first impression of you. In fact, considering that job search engines like Monster (which is one of the 20 most visited websites out of 100 million worldwide and is the largest job search engine in the world, with over a million job listings at any time, over 150 million resumes posted, and over 63 million job seekers per month—talk about competition!) allow you to upload your resume online, the resume is an employer’s first impression of you. These days it’s more important than ever to make that first impression count, so here are some ways that you can spruce up the you of your resume.

Don’t shy away from articulating exactly why you would be a perfect addition to a company’s corporate team. It’s important to tailor your resume specifically to the position for which you are applying each and every time, so make sure to do some research beforehand on your potential employer’s company and its mission—that way, you can specify your objective in your resume to show the company exactly what you would bring to them (plus, you’ll be safe if they decide to quiz you about the company during your interview).

If you know what you’re talking about, then you’ll be able to say it with confidence—and if you’re confident, you’ll not only appear more put-together and professional, but you’ll also come across as more personable and genuine.

Consider this: When a company asks ten well-qualified candidates each to come in for interviews, you need to make yourself stand out in a way that is professional yet personal (especially if you’re interviewing for a job in communications, customer service, or hospitality, where being personable is a valuable disposition). In an interview, you should essentially be making your resume come to life—that is: be enthusiastic about your experience, your ability, and yourself in a new career.

Show your potential employer that you’re confident, capable, prepared, and invested in your future with their company. Although you’re there to get a job so you can make money, keep in mind that, if you do get the job, you’ll also be there to build successful relationships with your coworkers. Your employer will be monitoring how well think he or she thinks you’ll work with the rest of the team, and that assessment will rely on both your professional and personal skills.

Doing your research on each job possibility before you send the resume also shows your potential employer that you work proactively, which will translate to your work ethic to prove that you don’t make careless mistakes. It’s clear, then, that doing research, tailoring your resume, and exuding confidence provide a win-win situation both for you and possible employers.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to masters degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

Nov 30

Trying to pull a fast (company) one

Today's guest post is by Greg Schmalz, president, Schmalz Communications.

Show-me-the-moneyBeing a solo public relations practitioner, I provide services in a number of ways.  One, I have clients who work directly with me and I provide them with counsel, strategy and services from writing press releases, case studies, bylined articles and the like as well as media relations.

Having been an award-winning sportswriter earlier in my professional career and having worked in network radio for years, I made the transition to public relations. It has been a rewarding career as I took the entrepreneurial approach of starting my own business after being downsized several times.

Media relations is my niche and often I am called upon to deliver results – whether it’s for my clients or as a free-lancer to small, medium and even large agencies from New York to California. In baseball lore, I’m like a “call to the bullpen” as I often bail agencies out of a jam.  I’m a “hired gun” with a bulldog approach.  In other words, I am aggressive in working with editors and getting results.

But, on occasion you get situations where the client doesn’t see the value in hiring you unless you deliver the results.  In other words, they want to see the results.  I’m a seasoned communications professional and my track record speaks for itself.  But they want to skirt the issue and pay only when you deliver.

Often I am asked “who (journalists) do you know here” and “who do you know there.”  And my response is the same.  “All the right people.”  In these tough economic times where the publishing industry has been hard hit and magazines are closing, newspapers are folding and everyone is having a tough time making ends meet, writers are now wearing more than one hat on an editorial staff and some journalists have jumped ship to find a better financial deal.

But when it comes to media relations, it’s commonplace to research and navigate your way to find the right person to pitch a story.

I recently was consulted by an agency to deliver an article in Fast Company magazine for their client. They issued a Request for Proposal and, naturally, I was one of many that had pitched the business.  But they liked what they read and the next step was a conference call with the client. Not only did the conversation with the agency’s client change about the scope of work, but now the client was pushing towards a “pay for performance” agreement. While I have rarely worked in this scheme of things, I was willing to listen to what he had in mind.

Now, the opportunity has been placed on hold.  But it gives me time to think.  Would you work under these conditions?  I know I bring value to the table.  It’s a gamble at best.  It’s like playing roulette.  If the ball falls on my number, I get paid.  And by the same token, I only collect a payday if I deliver the article in Fast Company.

But what about the time I spend researching and reaching out to editorial staff?  Isn’t that worth something?  Would you work for nothing with hopes that “well, it could be a big payday?”  It’s like playing the lottery.

Suppose I do deliver a placement.  Now, the question becomes “is the client happy?”  Is it the type of article he hoped for?  Or is it another opportunity to push off paying you what you rightfully deserve and earned?

Those in the industry are fully aware that there are no guarantees in public relations.  You want a guarantee – buy an ad.  But public relations can help shape opinions, is every bit as important as other disciplines in the marketing mix and helps build credibility.

Whether you’re an intern or an experienced professional, don’t get caught up in these “one-sided” situations. Time is money and you are worth something.  Determine what it is and stick to your guns.  Would they work for little or nothing for the opportunity to strike it big?  I don’t think so.

Nov 28

In the Shoes of Your Wage Payers

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Carl Foster.
What do these three Steves have in common?
•         Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple
•         Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels
•         Steve Cody, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Peppercom
Answer: They have all taken time to step out of their corner office and actually experience their organization from their employees’ perspective.
Why is this important? Getting in the trenches helps you directly understand what your frontline employees deal with, and what they deal with most often are customers, the people who pay all our wages. So here’s a question: Why stop with just experiencing life as a low-rung employee? Why not actually put yourself in the shoes of your customers and prospective customers? Image0183
We all know the days of top-down marketing are over; companies are now in a conversation with their customers. So shouldn’t more people at the top make more of an effort to ‘get’ where their customers are coming from? And by that I do not mean registering zip codes or monitoring cookies.
A recent article on CNN.com claimed that Steve Jobs fielded a number of customer service calls – a pretty amazing fact considering he was the head of a company with more cash than the U.S. government. Here is an exchange between Jobs and Apple customer, Scott Steckley:
"Hi Scott, this is Steve," Steckley recalled hearing from the other end of the phone.
"Steve Jobs?" he asked.
"Yeah," Jobs said. "I just wanted to apologize for your incredibly long wait. It's really nobody's fault. It's just one of those things."
"Yeah, I understand."
Then Jobs explained that he expedited the repair.
As for Steve Joyce of Choice Hotels, he appeared on Undercover Boss on CBS. He plunged toilets, made beds and cold-called potential conference customers.
There was no toilet plunging for our own Steve Cody, but spending a day as Peppercom’s receptionist and another as a junior PR pro led to concrete changes for the better at Peppercom.
How many CEOs do this? Or, more importantly, have the mindset to even consider doing anything like this?
Spending time as the low person on the totem pole gets you closer to the customer and the issues they face. It’s a good start, but you’re still on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to understanding your customer’s experience, or, to be exact, your audience’s experience, because there are a lot of people in your target audience who are not your customers.
Sure, you have reams of reports, stats and data about your customers, but there are also reams of reports, stats and data about your employees. For those who have done it – named Steve or otherwise – the value of this reported information pales in comparison to the actual experience of life as a lower level employee. If there is so much value in putting yourself in the shoes of the people you pay, imagine how much value there is in putting yourself in the shoes of the people who pay you?

Nov 18

Do you have the right stuff?

Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Lauren Begley.

NASA has launched a new campaign aimed at recruiting new astronauts for its class of 2013. The crux of the plea is simple: NASA seeks the next generation of curious dare devils willing to explore deeper into space than ever before.

There is a sense of national pride and raw, unbridled courage that is seemingly required to participate in the space program. However, the announcement comes just a few short months after the halt of U.S. space shuttle missions. The organization’s reputation is also hurting as people today are more concerned with spending government funds on programs that will help the economy here on earth. Was this recruitment campaign ill-timed?

I say no. And here’s why:

We need better role models: Pop culture is filled with so-called icons but half of their last names are Kardashian. I remember reading The Right Stuff in college (one of my all-time favorite books, by the way), and wishing we had heroes like Chuck Yeager and fellow Ohioan John Glenn. They stood for courage, adventure and American pride; a much better alternative than celebrities who stand for making unearned cash and having a good time.

We need to reinvigorate wonder around the possibility of what’s out there: Perhaps sci-fi movies over the years have diminished our curiosity about space. I wasn’t around in 1969, but I imagine it was a pretty incredible experience to watch Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon. Considering how far technology has advanced since then, it’s inspiring to think of where we can go and what we can learn in the future.

We need to encourage young people to study science and math: This point is most important in my book. I was always fascinated by science as a kid, but the math got in my way so I ended up a communications major in college. Not to say that marketing and PR professionals aren’t making a difference, but it’s the professionals in the research, engineering, medical and technology fields that are moving humanity forward by leaps and bounds. The economy is still struggling and the best way to ensure a stronger, better future is to foster the intellectual curiosity and capability of young people.