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Surprising And Delighting People- Your Thoughts Please!

18 July

So we’ve been recently doing a Skillshare course with Seth Godin about marketing… And it’s been interesting to kind of see this business in a different way.

In general, I think we provide pretty good customer service. I will be the first to say sometimes I drop the ball but it’s relatively infrequent and I always try to do something to make up for it (like update a client’s software or design them a new Facebook cover), sometimes telling them but often times not. (Full disclosure: I do that extra something nice mostly for myself, so I feel like if it wasn’t a job as well done as it could have been, I’ve somehow made up for it.)

Not sure how to say it in Chinese but it means 'good bone water', which is delightful in and of itself.

Not sure how to say it in Chinese but it means ‘good bone water’, which is delightful in and of itself.

I’ve been really thinking a lot about surprising and delighting customers, which Seth Godin urges us to do in this course. Here’s something that comes to mind:

I’ve been getting acupuncture to help with my arm issues. After my last session, Lea (my therapist? pricker? puncturist? not sure what to call her?) gave me some ‘Good Bone Water’, basically like a natural BenGay.

I brought it home and the requisite I-am-a-12-year-old-boy style jokes ensued between Derrick and I…

Until I realized that two nights in a row, Derrick asked me to put the good bone water on his shoulder and I had been waking up with more relaxed arms after rubbing it on my arms the last couple nights. “I should buy more of this stuff.” I thought. Gosh, that acupuncturist is clever getting me dependent on this stuff…

I got the box out of the garbage to see how much my new habit was going to cost me.

$10.

Really?

That’s it?

With a $10 gift, she surprised and delighted me… even though I’ve probably spent over $500 with her at this point, I (and now Derrick) was psyched about the bone water which I never would have tried otherwise.

So I’m searching for other stories of times people have been surprised and delighted by a company. Please share yours! I am hoping to get some inspiration so we can think of new ways to surprise and delight our customers.

P.S. I will say also here how a few customers have surprised and delighted me: by including a thank you note with their mailed in payment. I can count the number of times it has happened on one hand and, while I didn’t get into this work to get praise, it warms my heart to get them and I’ve kept every single one.

Employee Satisfaction, à la Buzzfeed

11 July

So, you may or may not be aware that I spend a lot of time, um, researching, on Buzzfeed. Something that has stuck out to me lately is the way they use employees to humblebrag about their work environment. In June, Buzzfeed employee Justin accidentally sent an e-mail about running late because the hot water in his apartment building wasn’t working to the whole Buzzfeed community. Rather than being embarrassing and disastrous, the result was embarrassing and hilarious.

And, there was even a message straight from the top.

And, there was even a message straight from the top.

 

 

Another example of Buzzfeed employees at “work” is this post about a couple girls who decided to try their hand at Tarot Card readings. Two of them drew cards and answered questions based on what they assumed the cards meant. A third woman with actual experience with Tarot readings then chimed in. It’s pretty hysterical, and worth a read if you have some time.

tarot_buzzfeed

http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelysanders/idiot-tarot

What do these examples of employee tomfoolery have to do with my business, you may ask. Well, there’s a lesson in employee satisfaction within these Buzzfeed articles. Here’s the breakdown on what satisfied employees can do for your business:

1) Happiness Factor:  If you take a business management class (or, a marketing class in my case), you will probably be told that the key to customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction. This isn’t rocket science, I suppose: the faces of your employees equals the face of your business. Ideally, the face of your business is a happy one. On the flip side, if the face of your business has a rather sour disposition, people are less inclined to come back as repeat customers.

This Business Insider list shows the “Happiest Companies” in America this year. Curious about how one quantifies happiness, I looked into their methodology. The components of happiness in a job include: cash compensation (i.e. salary, bonuses, commissions, tips), stress level, flexibility around work schedule, and meaningfulness of the job (i.e. are employees made to feel that their job is important?).

So, while you may not be able to increase salaries or give bonuses, you CAN make changes to the work environment, and turn it into a place that employees love. Remember, you want the face of your business to smile (like it means it).

Interestingly, there are a lot of petroleum companies on this list... http://www.businessinsider.com/happiest-companies-in-america-2014-4

Cities with the happiest employees 
http://www.businessinsider.com/happiest-companies-in-america-2014-4

 

2) Engagement Encouragement  The example of Buzzfeed may be a bit extreme in terms of goofiness, but it shows that you can encourage employees to showcase your business. Justin was able to show off the Buzzfeed work environment by posting the various responses to his e-mail, including one from the CEO. While reading the post, I was thinking, “Man, these people are so clever! It would be so fun to work with them. I think I love Buzzfeed EVEN MORE NOW!” 

Encouraging employees to engage in the business in a fun way has a few benefits: self-promotion (in a subtle way), increased productivity, incentive to go above and beyond the call of duty, and overall better quality of work.

This article from Forbes describes the relationship between employee satisfaction and business performance in greater (and more technical) detail. There is also this flow chart:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 1.59.09 PM

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2014/01/07/employee-engagement-the-wonder-drug-for-customer-satisfaction/

3) “We’ve Got Your Back”  This idea goes along with encouragement. If, for instance, the girls doing Tarot readings were somehow disciplined for their post, they a) would lose incentive to engage with the company and b) wouldn’t be convinced that Buzzfeed had their backs.

When a business or boss tells their employees “Yes, please go ahead and do X. That would be great”, following through and standing behind employees who do X is important. Unless they are completely missing the point of the task or botching it, punishing them will generate feelings of betrayal, and all incentive they have to do X.  And perhaps any other future task that’s asked of them. Basically, it’s all a downward spiral. Don’t create trust issues with your employees. 

Of course, I consider myself a satisfied employee here at Breaking Even… which may have something to do with Nicole indulging my Buzzfeed habit.

What Running 20 Miles in the Middle of the Night Taught Me About Life

08 July

Many months ago, one of my friends jumped out of bed and proclaimed (with meaningful background music), “I’m going to go for a 100 mile run this summer!”

Actually, I’m not sure how it all went down, but I like to imagine it with a dramatic flair.

Once I determined that he was still sane, I agreed to help to run a fraction of it with him. After all, this is the person who convinced me a couple years ago that I could totally run a marathon, and has dragged me through a couple so far. So, I figured the least I could do was return the favor.

And that’s the story of the (first) time I volunteered to run 20 miles in the middle of the night on the Sunrise Trail. My friend started running around 4 p.m., and I joined in from midnight to 4 a.m. (aka The Graveyard Shift). Here are a few life lessons I learned along the way:

1) Sometimes, you need to readjust. Less than 2 miles in, I got vague pain in my head. No worries, I reassured myself, this is all new territory, you had a lot of caffeine today and are running at midnight. But by mile 5, this headache had grown to epic proportions.  I didn’t want to say anything, partially because of the searing pain and partially because I felt responsible for getting my friend through the next few hours of running. Don’t be a flake! screamed the voice in my head.

And then, we made a brief pitstop to adjust headlamps (this was my first time wearing one). Almost as soon as I took mine off, a surge of blood rushed back into my head. That’s right. My headache was the result of cutting off circulation to my own brain via headlamp.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were amazing.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were this amazing.

While this was, to say the least, uncomfortable, there’s a good life take-away: as you move about your day/life in general, if you feel like your head is about to explode (literally or figuratively), then something needs to change. The answer may not be as simple as oxygen deprivation, but once you find the solution, moving forward becomes a lot easier.

2) Trading passion for glory isn’t worth it (that’s right, Eye of the Tiger). So, the biggest question people had about the whole running 100 miles was “Why?” Well, my friend basically said, “Why NOT?” It amazed me that someone could be so passionate about, well, anything. The fact that there was no tangible prize at the end of this thing baffled me. He was just doing it for the sheer sake of doing it.

This reminded me how refreshing it is to do something you love free of ulterior motives. I’m guilty of getting a bit too competitive when I run, despite the knowledge that it’s bad for my mental well-being. In this undertaking, my friend reminded me (note: he has also told me this on many, many other occasions) that relying on external factors, be they medals, praise, a promotion, etc., isn’t a great reason to do something. Do it because it’s what you love to do, and let that be all.

3) It’s an adventure! Towards the end of my shift, neither one of us spoke unless necessary (me due to sleep deprivation, and my friend because he’d been running for almost 12 hours at this point). The only noises were our feet hitting dirt, some bullfrogs, and an owl. At one point, probably around 3 a.m., it was dark- as if all the light but our headlamps had been sucked in a vacuum. And then, the sun started to rise.

Perhaps delirious, I got inexplicably excited by this. We were running toward the sun! It was all an adventure! Life is an adventure!!! My brain was full of exclamation points.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

At this point, I was reveling in the craziness of running 20 miles at midnight, and was struck with how awesome my surroundings were- the trees, the frogs, the flowers, the sky. Finding joy in the simple things genuinely makes the world seem like a better place, no matter where you are.

4) Never underestimate your friends. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again: it’s comforting to know that other people will support you, no questions asked. Even if they think you’re a little off your rocker for wanting to run 100 miles in the heat of summer. I was just one of many who participated in this run, and there was a ton of support via Facebook. Sometimes, just showing up is enough. No matter what your goals are, it’s always good to have a support team.

5) Push your limits, but know when enough is enough. Ultimately, due to the heat and humidity, my friend decided to stop running after 85 miles. It was a smart decision, anddifficult to make. Setting goals and aspiring to do things you didn’t know you could do (running 85 miles, learning how to use Photoshop, teaching yourself how to breakdance) leads to personal growth (which you probably already knew), but the tricky part is balancing this with knowing when it’s time to tap out (and not viewing it as ‘giving up’). This is something that I struggle with, and don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for (maybe because it doesn’t exist).

I’m thankful that my friend asked me to be part of this run, and am so proud of what he accomplished. It was a tremendous feat, and it all happened because, quite simply, he wanted it to happen. How many times will you get to run the Sunrise Trail at midnight with a good friend? As many times as you want.

Tech Thursday: Being Pun-ny Online

03 July

Warning: Terrible jokes ahead.

Have you seen those businesses on Facebook or Twitter that just seem hilarious? How do they do it, anyway? 

We have a few ways you can showcase your sense of humor online, and they’re pretty punny. As a disclaimer, Nicole only knows one joke (which you’ll see in the video), and Kassie can’t get through telling her jokes without laughing pre-punchline, but in terms of online marketing, we can tell you what’s going to be good for business!

 

As a bonus, here is a chart that demonstrates our take on approaching humor:

 

Nicole's Chart of Funny

Nicole’s Chart of Funny

Client Profile: Bar Harbor Historical Society

01 July

You’ve probably seen somewhere on our website we offer training for websites. You might wonder, what does a website built by a volunteer with some technical help from Breaking Even look like?

Well let’s start from the beginning and say it looked like this (note: This was screenshotted as the website was, and is showing at 500 pixels rather than the actual 600 wide it was. In other words, a very skinny website floating in the middle of my 20 inch desktop screen):

screenshot-original-barharborhistoricalwebsite

The site was built in 1995. Now I don’t know about you but a lot has changed for me since 1995, and a lot has changed in terms of website technology. First of all, screens have gotten both smaller (mobile) and wider (desktop monitors). It has also been made much easier to have dynamic elements, like slideshows and other interactive content. And also, people now expect more out of websites. They want to pay online, fill out a form, learn a lot of information about you before proceeding.

Kathy, a BHHS volunteer, wanted them to be able to easily have photo galleries, downloadable brochures, a slideshow, a blog, and other features she had seen on websites. She also wanted it to be something they could update themselves.

bhhs-website

So over the course of several meetings, to allow Kathy to gather materials like photos and get approvals from the board at various stages, we built the following basic (though very useful) website for the Bar Harbor Historical Society.

Is it super fancy? No. Did we get all crazy on fonts or redesign their logo? Nope.

But the site is responsive and has the features they want. And it’s built in a platform that will be able to grow with them as they increase their membership and track their website visitors’ behavior over the course of the summer with Google Analytics.

Since it’s been online the last few weeks, they’ve gotten several inquiries from people visiting the area or searching for historical information.

As being part of the creation process, Kathy has a great idea not only of what went into the website but what it is capable of. She has already had some great ideas she is taking to the board. Most exciting is she was able to pinpoint the most important information that needed to be conveyed and we were able to find places for it on the homepage of the website, with still more room to add additional features.

Congratulations to Kathy for her hard work getting content together as well as the Bar Harbor Historical Society on a website that reaches not only a more modern user but saves volunteers time and effort in the process by answering those questions they were being asked over and over again.

Online Video and SEO

27 June

Way back when, search engines relied heavily on text. But in the age of Youtube empires and search results including videos, it is time to realize that video and doing well in online searches actually go hand in hand.

videoinsearchresults

Think about it:

Youtube = Search Engine

Youtube is the second largest search engine in the world after Google and attracts 157 million unique visitors per  month. So people are going directly onto Youtube to find information they need.

Worried about your performance in Google? Videos are 53 times more likely to be on the first page of search results.

So if you want to do good in search engines, make videos, upload them with good titles and descriptions to sites like Youtube or Vimeo, and make sure in the description and on your profile, you link back to your own website.

Video Websites = Social Networks

Youtube has 1 billion monthly active users (as of March 2013). Vomeo has 25 million members with a 70%+ international audience. In other words, people go on video sharing websites (not just large networks like Youtube and Vimeo but video sharing sites/curating sites like Upworthy or Godvine) and not only watch your initial video but all the videos on your channel (this obsessive watching has a term now: binge watching).

So not only do people connect with your video, they might see what else you have to say, what else you are liking and commenting on, and otherwise want to interact with you.

Video = Sticky website content

There are entire websites built on curating specific groups of videos (Upworthy and Godvine above but also even very specific websites like Twitch, where you can watch people play online video games in real time).

People are four times as likely to stay on a website that has video on it. In other words add video to your site and not only are people more likely to come but they’ll also be more likely to stay.

Video = Less competition (for now)

I do this exercise when I talk to groups.

1) How many of you have watched a website video this week? (99% of people raise their hands.)
2) How many of you have watched a website video today? (Depending on the time of day it’s at least 50% but sometimes close to 99%.)
3) How many of you have made an online video in the last month? (0 hands go up)

In other words, here is this thing that people want but not many people are making. A low supply/high demand scenario at its best. If you are the ones making the videos that other people are watching, you win!

So this is why we have resolved to do more with video this year: because not only is it a cool thing to do but also because it is worthwhile in terms of online visibility. And it’s never been easier folks so step in front of that camera and let’s see what you’ve got!

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