Archive for the ‘society with a Small "s"’ Category

Service, Thy Name is Customer

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Hello to you, the service person. It’s a service world out there. And, this essay will use the word service many times. But, it’s a curious word that has had more than a few vacillating meanings—when someone says “I’m servicing” another, I immediately think something dirty. Yeah … But what does it mean to work in a professional service business? If you’re like 75 percent of the country, you’re genuinely in it for the customer, and your product is your intellect or your ability or something that you “do” for another—a pretty abstract concept. The morass of information about service seems to show what’s right and wrong for those who toil daily for the demanding yet worthwhile customer; but it becomes more complicated when you need to figure out how to DO a service and RUN your own successful company—because you have so many people telling you how to do your job, including the customer.

So what’s with customers? Well, they pay the bill—they’re pretty much the key component to the business, right? But they’re not always right about the business. In fact, they’re usually not right unless they’re highly educated or expertly trained in precisely what the endgame is. And if they are, well, why would they need you? Your job is to instruct your clientele on how you do what they can’t on their own (while not giving away any proprietary goodies), and to show them why, since you’re The Expert, you need to be given the BOTD (benefit of the doubt).

I work in PR and we’ve discovered that most clients don’t really know how PR works or how it’s successful. Let’s just say they haven’t a clue how to judge our work or gauge PR success. We live on the theory that resolving to tell folks what’s right for them—whether they agree or not—is how to be a true service professional nowadays. Because, when you think about it, no matter how the customer feels about you when you tell him he is dead wrong, if you succeed, all the bad feelings go away quickly.

Keep in mind: Is this a popularity contest? Or are you there to get a job done? The good news about being resolute is that people respect you for it even if they won’t admit it. Respect from those who buy your services is tough to get. I’d like to tell you a little secret I learned about 10 years ago at the beginning of the tough-to-manage dot com revolution: Your clients like to be told what to do. They’re actually slightly submissive and want you to take charge, push them into a corner, stand proud, thump your chest and say, “This is me and this is what I’ve got to offer.” They just won’t admit it.

Most of the people I know in various PR and marketing industries slap me down when I go there. “Gosh, Richard, I have to do what the client wants.” But that’s exactly how you get into trouble. What makes you think someone who doesn’t have a clue about PR has good advice? Because he reads David Pogue’s column once or twice a month?

Customers, I’ve decided, don’t really like being asked what they want, because they don’t know! Henry Ford said it many years ago, and it still holds true: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have told me, ‘a faster horse.’ ” (Yes, I owned that horse in the form of a Fiesta.) What’s the point of asking a question to someone who doesn’t know the answer? Tell them what they need to do! Get the buy-in from them by non-lazily and passionately explaining why you are the person they paid to do it. Yes, an Expert.

Sounds like common sense and still most folks will ask the client “Do you have the time to …,” which makes me shake my head feverishly. What’s time got to do with it? Cue Tina Turner. So, here’s what you need to tell them if you really find the idea/request/pattern/next step worthy: Tell them why. Tell them precisely why. Get them to see what they’ll get FOR doing it and what they will get FOR NOT doing it. If the former is better, then make ‘em DO IT.

Remember how I learned a lot about pushing people around in ‘97? See, back then there were so many minor players managing businesses who should have been selling shoes (funding was everywhere; “dumb money” we called it aptly). These little people had a fondness for telling PR pros that he or she “deserved” to be on the cover of Red Herring (circ. 50,000). We would point out, firmly and simply, that even if their self-importance were to spread in that direction, they’d most likely GET NOTHING from it: the business they were growing would not get a lot of new business from The Cover since said company was too incomprehensible and without a fully developed message (or product). Being on the cover of a magazine would in fact do a good turn toward confusing the readers! We pushed back again and again. They pushed back again and again. But we eventually won because the piece we painstakingly placed in the quasi-reputable Silicon Alley Reporter (circ 10,000) got them more partnerships and wannabe customers than anything they thought they, uh, deserved. From that moment on, I resolved to never let anyone boss us around unless they did PR. Because otherwise, our service would just be … a disservice.

Twitter @laermer

TrendSpotting Tips For Marketers

Monday, November 16th, 2009

playworkstuff.jpgOn the 1-year anniversary of the launch of “2011: Trendspotting,” I have decided to ponder a variety of trends to look forward to in business:

    Out with the bad customers.

These days, businesses generally subscribe to the theory that it

Kanye Swift: A Marriage Made In Heaven

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Wherefore art thou, decorum?

Let

Gossipeur: The Second of an Inane Series

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Starting last Friday, until whenever it ends, I will be reporting on the facts behind gossip

Gossip Cop: To Protect and Serve Who?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This is the first of an inane series on one of America

The Lion In Water

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Ted Kennedy was the lion of the Senate who lived a long and consistent life as a public servant. Not even political foes can argue that his service was not of the highest order; he served just as his brothers before him had. Always a liberal trendsetter, this Kennedy pushed for single-payer national health care starting in 1974. A consistent promoter of what he believed was right, the man never wavered.

Throughout the career of the Massachusetts leader, a notable cloud followed him at all times. He was not able to shake Chappaquiddick

Nobody Out-Novaked Novak

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Robert Novak was a man.

He served our country honorably during the Korean War; was an excellent journalist; and was, in very many ways, a pioneer in cable news. His six-times-weekly Evans-Novak Political Report was

It

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

It

Is Socialism The Norm & We Just Don

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

The country is currently immersed in a wide-ranging (and healthy) discussion about health care. This overhaul of the for-profit system we use is alarmingly overdue so the debate is on in every city and town.

Without going into detail for days, some Democrats, including President Obama, are trying to enact a plan that would revamp the entire industry. Part of it would mean Americans could essentially purchase low-cost insurance from the Government. This is called

kidlessness

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

If your parents never had children, chances are you won’t either.
- Dick Cavett

Remember the Seinfeld episode where the Long Island couple wanted Jerry and Elaine to “Come and see the ba-a-aby!”

That cry is being heard less and less because too few people are having kids, and the trend is creeping upward. A non-child-rearing population is taking over in ways that our forefathers would have been scared to see coming.

A close female friend and I have had the same running joke for years. When asked about our prospects for having children now, one of us chuckles: “No pets, no kids.” It’s that simple.

In years to come, being kid-free will have less of a stigma attached and elicit some wicked pangs of jealousy from the world of the nuclear family. We people with no kids get to do everything, and yeah we get it, the kisshugwarmth from a kid is cool and all, and still people wonder all the time if the cleanup followed by terror is worth it. What fresh hell!

If you, like me and my partner, are running on the selfish track you find it hard to fathom what it’s like to be with a child, or even a single adult, 24 hours each day. So here’s my tale:

Three of my closest women friends had babies in their forties after swearing off the thought. They all got happiness — each of them has regrets that she shares with me only under alcohol. One of my friends actually said, “You don’t like kids” to me, knowing full well that’s not true. But I like them in your home. I don’t mind being insulted, but I’ve held strong. You tell people like me that it’s “all different” with children, and I’m sure it is — in ways that can be understood when you’re there.

Even those so-cool parents — with a sitter on deck — don’t live their former lives; they pretend to. Well, I hope they pretend. It’s either that or they’re not really good at parenting. One faker I knew had a babysitter “on deck” (living in his apartment building) so he and the missus could stay out drinking till 2; the baby was months old. He is all about the “possession” and I’m thinking spending nights with the kid is a positive of procreation!

I don’t prescribe to guilt, so “got to do it” never appealed to me. And then, sadly, many friendships take a hit as soon as the kids push out. It is good that new “urbitudinal” moms are closing their wombs to kids. Witness this press release from 2007 out of the University of Florida:

Women view childlessness much more favorably than men do, likely because parenting places greater demands on mothers, especially those juggling work and family responsibilities, a new study finds. Can you imagine this: a woman takes off an average of 11 years from career for family!

Parenthood — 11 years of dedication. I can’t get why one word makes people feel so warm and cuddly. I’m told, however, that parenthood has different consequences for women than for men. So says Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox — a sociologist whose intriguing study is found in Journal of Marriage and Family. “Although fathers have become more involved in childcare and housework in recent decades they provide fewer hours and generally less intensive care on average than mothers,” she said without any irony.

A release about her study put it well: “Results suggest that women regard both childbearing and marriage as being less central and more optional in women’s lives” (Koropeckyj-Cox).

A lot of people have decided — see upcoming statistics — that they don’t want to be the ones who mutter “You would understand if you had a child” to their pals. Based on U.S. census data, 44 percent of women aged 15 to 44 are turning away from rearing children. By the year 2010, that figure is projected to have risen to a child-free movement that has statisticians worried. In Europe, it’s been a slow buildup, and the next decade looks scary.

Whereas the United States has a 2.0 fertility rate (the average number of children that a woman is expected to give birth to), Italy has for years had a 1.2! European countries are taking steps to address the specter of sharply uncompetitive workforces. The Italian Labor Minister announced the government will offer incentives to keep people at work past the minimum retirement age of 57.

Spain has a doozy of a birthrate problem. According to the WHO, its fertility rate a few years ago was 1.1, the lowest in Western Europe. In North America, a newish study by David Foot, a demographer at University of Toronto, says that as more women are getting highly educated, they wait longer to have kids — sometimes until they no longer have the desire.

I speak (and I shake my head with delight) of a politically incorrect movement that has started around the world called Childfree. This crazy change of pace differentiates those who choose from those who simply cannot. One of my favorite organizations is called No Kidding! International, a nonprofit club just for singles and couples who are standing firm.

Jerry Steinberg calls himself “Founding Non-Father”; he claims that people are starting chapters everywhere, with their own hilarious lingo, too, such as bratley for bad kids and PNB for parent/not breeder, a way of acknowledging someone did it right.

As you know, unruly children make the kidless nuts! Pals complain about their messy homes all the time. I tell them: “I didn’t tell you to have them.” I am, however, stating the unobvious: “I’m friends with you. I’m not friends with your kid.”

There is a kinder and gentler side to this post, and for that I turn to Lisa Groen Braner, author of The Mother’s Book of Well-Being, who explains that something happens to parents, and new moms in particular, that makes motherhood an all-consuming experience. “Friends need to be patient, during the first year especially. The mother [and father] gets sleep-deprived, she may be nursing. Her whole perception of the world is altered. And the moms need to understand that not everybody finds talking about babies all the time completely fascinating” (Beth D’Addono, “Can This Friendship Survive?”, The Star-Ledger, August 3, 2003).

To paraphrase an old folk song: “What shall we do with the childless?”

A couple of years ago I got invited to a first birthday party. I like parties, although you wouldn’t have known it from the hissy fit I pulled that afternoon during that nightmare. Everyone was someone who owned a kid. I ran from the room. Naturally, I was the topic of conversation for the rest of the guests. And some days later, as if on cue, I overheard a childfree lady talking to a buddy: “I said I’m not able to make her three-year-old’s party, and boy did she think I was evil. She snapped at me big time: ‘Can’t you just drop the gift off and leave?’ Is that what it’s come to?”

For millions who choose to remain without offspring, it’s our yucky freedom after all. We find it strange when people inform us what great parents we’d make because this is not about the kids. It is about friendship. If a bond is real, it survives distances, fights, kids, illness, and even death. It doesn’t matter who takes residence in your home. You were there before, and you will be there when the nest gets emptied out . “A friendship is like a garden. You have to tend it and water it. Or it dies.” (Thank Sondheim for that tweet.)


I appreciate your putting your kid down while you read my diatribe. And remember there are more like this at home: Try my book, 2011: Trendspotting The Next Decade, from McGraw-Hill.

Twitter @laermer

Buy the Book - 2011

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