I’m siting a Moose and Sadies (a small cafe next to IPR where I teach) but I would rather be at home. In fact, I would be at home right now if it wasn’t for the fact that my internet there isn’t working. I called in to Century Link (my provider) yesterday and they said things should be up and running in a few hours. Twenty four hours later I still don’t have internet so I called them back. They told me the problem should be fixed, but I could call technical support in a few hours when they opened if I wanted more info. Then I complained about the fact that I would be charged for a full month of service even though I spend a few days without internet. The Representative I was speaking with informed me I could call another department if I wanted to dispute charges and they could fix this- she didn’t know if that area was open yet or not.
So… why can’t you do all of that for me? That was my question to her. You work in the same company with both of these other departments. Can’t you call them when they open and have them get in touch with me? Or better yet, can’t you tell them what my problems are and have them look into them when they open? Why is it now my responsibility to be my own customer service and coordinate with different departments so I am charged for what services I actually received? Do you want me to go to Comcast? That was the only one of those questions she could answer. No, they don’t want me to go to Comcast. What does this rant have to do with the music business? Everything.
I’m currently reading a new-ish book by Gary Vaynerchuk called The Thank You Economy. He asserts that we’ve moved into a “thank you economy” where some businesses have changed what it means to care about customers. It’s an idea about, not only how business should be done, but how he’s certain it soon will be done by most successful businesses in the coming decade and moving on into the future. (People that predict the future are worth listening to; they’re not always right, but when they are, that clairvoyance is almost always useful. In fact, I’m convinced that the people who win aren’t even usually the people with the best ideas, I think they’re usually just the people paying the most attention.) Here’s the heart of the idea: if you care more about your customers than the other guy, people will want to work with you, and tell other people they should work with you too. And then, your business will be successful.
The backbone of the philosophy is skillful use of social media. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare make it possible for a large (or small) company to reach their customer base and potential customer base inexpensively, and personally. The opportunity now exists to take the old “mom and pop” feel and scale it to a much larger audience. You can give personal attention, and build personal relationships out of very little and create “emotional equity” with people. The concept of emotional equity in business is a new term for an old idea- caring about customers inspires them to care about you.
The literal guide here is pretty simple. You can listen to what people say about your company online. Then you can respond. (You can also eavesdrop on potential customers as well. People talking about competitors, or people who are looking for advice in your industry, etc…) Gary uses the example of over hearing a conversation in person. You’re out doing something and overhear a customer talking about a bad experience with your company. If you care about your company you would probably introduce yourself and try and help. Likewise, if you overheard someone complimenting your company, you’d also likely introduce yourself and say thank you. If you really wanted to make an impression on that customer you might find a special way to thank them that would be remarkable and ensure they repeated the story. Finding a good way to thank someone is easy. In fact, it should be second nature. You understand what would make you feel genuinely appreciated, and you understand what would be unexpected and impress you- so why not do that for your customers. Gary predicts if you won’t, someone else will soon.
There are a few reasons why I really like this philosophy; the first reason is that it’s right. If my internet provider cared at all about me or my business they’d handle the problem I called about themselves. And, if someone else came along and showed me an internet provider I could use that would care about me I would move my business there today. In fact, I have gotten so disgusted by the way businesses treat me that I often do go well out of my way to use businesses with better customer service regardless of cost.
Here’s another example, last month I found a fee on my checking account for looking at my balance from a “non-wellsfargo atm.” Wellsfargo sees profit in fees like this- in fact, I know from working inside the banking industry at places like Wellsfargo and US Bank it’s their whole model. ”Fee based banking.” (Banks profited for thousands of years without a business model that searches out all ways they can nickel and dime their customers… It’s not about survival its transparent greed) Wellsfargo just announced that they will be charging monthly fees to have a checking account as well. Why? Because they can no longer charge as much for overdrafts due to legislation… (When you need to charge new fees because the US government of all organizations tells you your current fees are so exorbitant they’re now illegal… there’s a problem.) They see opportunity to reclaim profits- most of us see the middle finger. There isn’t a person alive who truly thinks Wellsfargo or Century Link, or any similar company actually cares about them.
The big shift that’s coming is a result of consumer control, and it’s already taking over some industries. There are more options than ever for consumers; the internet has made purchasing from across the country or globe safe an easy. Add in the fact that the customer experience is at an all-time low in many places (Press one to hear any option that doesn’t involve human contact!), then the final ingredient, a few rouge business who already decided they do care and they’re going to show it. What’s the result? Hopefully the slow and bitter deaths of the aforementioned behemoth companies. Due to the oligopolistic nature of internet providers and big consumer banking, it may be a while before we see a true competitor for these giants, but when one comes along and offers respect and caring that the old giants won’t offer, the choice for consumers will be pretty simple. For industries with relative low bar to entry the choices are already there.
The second reason I like about this philosophy is how Gary incorporates the importance of passionate employees. Here’s the smartest question an employer can ask- “How can my employees care about my customers, if their company doesn’t care about them.” The book argues the only thing a company should care more about than its customers, is its employees. Corporate culture starts with systemic attitudes from a company’s leadership. When I was posing hard, logical (and ultimately pointless) questions to the customer service rep at Century Link, I couldn’t help but think about the truth of the whole situation: she didn’t want to be having this conversation any more than I did. In fact, I she’s waiting for the day when she’s able to stop working at Century Link and can take a position she can truly be passionate about. She has no incentive to solve my problem. All my problem was was an annoying phone call while she was watching the clock. Century Link could change that- but they won’t.
I often feel as though people don’t understand these problems are just as dangerous for small businesses. If you’re a business of two people, how crucial is that one other person? Or the other ten people? If you want to create the passion you have about your business in those who work for you, treat them the way you would like to be treated. Care about them the way you care about your business, and they’ll care right back.
The third reason I really like this idea is because it has both everything and nothing to do with business. The best ideas are always at least a little universal in nature. One of the things the book talks about is intent- you can’t fake intent. People are used to people trying to get their attention and making vain statements about how much they “care” about you. Talk is cheap. Caring about your customers and truly appreciating those you work with is easy if you care about people in general. If you listen to a lot of networking gurus you’ll often hear them remark that it’s easier to network with people if you actually care about what other people are saying, and really want to know more about them. Intend is everything, because it’s nearly impossible to fake what you are.
But, let’s say you don’t need to fake it- let’s say you do have good intentions. Well then, here’s your opportunity, you can use that to out compete other businesses simply by out-caring them. And then, you can take this same philosophy and put it to work in the rest of your life. It’s easy to forget that every person you’re in a relationship with, from customers to your mom, wants to know they’re appreciated. And if you make a point to let them know that, you’ll reap the benefits of a stronger relationship. Also, your life will be much less complex and hypocritical if you have one set of ethics for both your personal life and your business life.
One thing you might hear a lot when people talk business (and quite often in a music industry full of posturing, smoke and mirrors, and every sort seedy behavior…) is that business is business. You hear people making statements like that as though ruthless behavior should be expected and rewarded. One of the books I teach out of is actually called “Ruthless Self Promotion in the Music Industry.” (Although, with in the first few pages the author admits he’s using the word ‘ruthless’ to grab attention, and not to mean people should be heartless in business.) The entire music industry has a murky past built on often mob-like mentality (due in part to legitimate organized crime involvement here and there…) It brings to mind the famous quote from Hunter S Thompson, ”The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
It’s both foolish and sad to see people try and live out these stereotypes in real life. …Especially if they’re somehow successful. However, more often than not, new entrepreneurs in the music business dig themselves an early grave if they adopt attitudes like this. Being successful in business isn’t about making sure other people aren’t, or conquest by force. Business is about relationships, just like the rest of life is about relationships. If you’ve ever negotiated with young and overeager people you get the feeling that they truly believe that good negotiating is about getting everything they want. You might be able to get exactly what you want in one situation or another, but sooner or later you’ll run out of people who are interested in doing business with you. Good negotiating is about finding ‘win, win’ situations. Just like conflict resolutions. If you care about the guy on the other side of the table it will show, and they’ll likely be happy to work with you again. People like to work with people they like. It’s just that simple.
That’s why The Thank You Economy resonated so much with me; it’s simple, it’s ethical, and it’s right. In fact, it’s made me rethink the online strategy of my businesses, and made me realize I need to take my approach of caring for those I do business with to another, blatantly recognizable level. It’s also really made me wish everyone I dealt with as a customer did business this way. In fact, I’ve bought this book for a few other people I think are on the right track but could use some guidance getting to their goals. The music industry is filled with lots of loud and interesting personalities, but even with all of us bright and vibrant, young and optimistic people working together, I don’t often feel as though these ideas dominate. But I do see the opportunity. (Especially when I have a hard time getting students ten years my junior to see the value in Twitter…) I hope you see it too! …unless you’re my direct competition… If you haven’t read the book, I think you should pick it up. And, if you have a job you hate, buy your boss this book! If they don’t read it and find a good way to thank you… quit!