A Celebration Cocktail Each Executive Should Know How to Mix!

A Celebration Cocktail Each Executive Should Know How to Mix! 

By Judith E. Glaser

Great leaders identify, measure, recognize, and reward meaningful efforts and achievements—and celebrate often with the people involved.

Why should managers and leaders celebrate more?

Creating a feeling of celebration helps meet people’s needs for inclusion, innovation, appreciation, and collaboration. Our brains are designed to be social – and the need for human contact is greater than the need for safety. The research by Matt Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger, scientists at UCLA, has shown that feeling socially excluded activates some of the same neural regions that are activated in response to physical pain, suggesting that social rejection may indeed be “painful.”

Those companies practicing celebrations as part of their conversational rituals open up their employees to make them feel part of the company’s common success, enable them to have the confidence to challenge the status quo, take ambitious initiatives, and share their creative ideas with others.

How might the disciplined practice of celebration change the culture of a company?

From my study of The Neuroscience of WE, and my work with executives, I know that celebration has a big impact on individuals, teams and companies.   It literally works wonders in the brain.

Scientists are learning that our brain is more changeable than we ever imagined—our brains exhibit neuroplasticity.  Our brain neurons can change their physiological properties in response to outside factors.  That is how babies develop and learn.  As we grow older we do not lose that ability to learn and modify our responses to things that happen.  In fact, we now know that a percentage of our genes, can be impacted by the environment – these changes, called epigenetic changes, are part of neuroplasticity as well – however they open up a whole new set of insights about the power of conversations to change fundamental and long lasting changes to our character – yes nurture is as or more powerful than nature!

The Ingredients of Healthy Celebration Cocktails
Neuroscience explains what impact you as a leader can have on healthy physical and emotional changes of your team by having positive celebrations and intelligent conversations.

  • Celebration Conversations elevate the level of such “feel good” chemicals as oxytocin and the endorphins – neuropeptides produced in the central nervous system. Their release into our system gives us a sense of well being, creating a safety space that enables us to experiment, take risks, learn and handle the challenges of growing the business.
  • Serotonin that is boosted by cheering and pleasant conversations is widely known for transforming lazy people into enterpriser, low performer into go-getters, and skeptics into supporters. For individuals or teams, serotonin adds focus, support innovative or disruptive solutions, increases motivation and can even transform stress into success. 
  • Researchers found that by having positive conversations during celebration time you trigger basal ganglia system that releases the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical communicates with the brain areas in the prefrontal cortex to allow people to pay attention to critical tasks, ignore distracting information, and update only the most relevant task information in working memory during problem-solving tasks.

What Makes Us Feel So Good?
Recent studies by numerous researchers show that the basal ganglia facilitate learning, with dopamine important to the process. One way that these behavioral routines are encoded is by the processing of reward information.

Wolfram Schultz, a principal research fellow at the University of Cambridge in England, studies how the brain processes reward information. “When something is really good, you go back for it again,” he says. “ Thus, by praising the accomplishments a leader, we are contributing to creating healthy behavioral patterns that will be repeated more often.  Celebration and dopamine is a reward to our brains like treats are to animals.

  • While elevating the level of “feel good” hormones with positive conversations, the level of cortisol is significantly lowered. Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus (the brain area responsible for your episodic memory) and there is robust evidence that excessive cortisol shuts down learning, creates anxiety attacks, can cause depression, and premature brain aging.
  • The words of acknowledgement, encouragement and support, especially when granted to a person under much stress, calms her amygdala mediated response – of fight-flight-freeze – allowing her to move into a more thoughtful and calm state.

When we converse openly with others, we are sharing our inner world, our sense of reality, to validate our reality with others.  We are measuring the levels of trust in our relationship to determine whether we can partner with others. The quality of our conversations depends on how open or closed we feel at the moment of contact. The neurochemical reactions in our brains drive our states of mind, and these affect the way we communicate, how we shape our relationships, and how we build trusting relationships with others.

When we receive public praise and support, we unlock these powerful set of neurochemical patterns that cascade positive chemistry throughout the brain. Highly motivated employees describe the feeling of performing well as an almost drug-like state.

When this state of positive arousal comes with appropriate, honest, and well-deserved (sincere) praise, employees feel they are trusted and supported by their boss. They will take more risks, speak up more, push back when they have things to say, and be more confident in their dealings with their peers.

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Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist, and consults to Fortune 500 Companies. Judith is the author of 4 best selling business books, including her newest Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion, 2013) Visit www.conversationalintelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; jeglaser@creatingwe.com or call 212-307-4386.

Think You’re Ready for PR? Tips from Those Who Know

By Jennifer Fleming, President, TallGrass Public Relations

Whether you’re a newly formed start-up or a well-established brand or thought leader, you’ve probably thought about or dabbled in public relations.

No matter how great your marketing strategies are, there is nothing more credible than an effective PR campaign. So if you’re at the stage where you really want to build your business brand, then it’s time to start seriously considering hiring professional assistance.  

The TallGrass team consults with hundreds of clients each year in various phases of their marketing and PR strategy and programs. Some are at square one; others have worked with firms in their past or current companies.

But in order to make PR work, it boils down to three things: definitive goals, managed expectations and the right experts.

Know your goals and your bandwidth

Every new client at TallGrass participates in a strategic planning session – we won’t work with a client unless we do. Your PR firm should spend the time to understand your business. From your product roll-out schedule to growth opportunities, revenue models to target markets, asking the questions and understanding your business is critical to create messaging and stories that resonate. It drives the strategy to achieve your goals.

If you’re unclear about your goals, your mission and your 118/elevator pitch, get clear – fast. Without these guideposts, your PR team can’t begin to understand the parameters of what you’re trying to accomplish (and neither can your company!). A great firm should be able to ask the right questions, form a strategy and guide you in the right direction.

Not only do you need to be clear on your goals, but also your company needs to make PR an organizational commitment. Today, PR professionals outnumber journalists three to one. Requests for contributed content – content originated from your company or a “hired gun” content writer – are more and more common. PR will take time – yours and your firm’s. Are you prepared to drop everything for an interview or draft a thousand-word article?

“Make sure you know what to do with the results,” says Deane Barker, partner at Blend Interactive. “If you get a ton of speaking opportunities, can you fulfill them? How will you vet them? If sales leads come pouring in, do you have a process to manage them? Can you do anything with them? What results from PR is a raw asset that needs to be refined to have business value. Can you do this?”

If you want to be in the NYT, sleep with Paris Hilton

I’m kidding, sort of. Managing the expectations of our clients with the appropriate media outlets and journalists is an important part of what we do. Who wouldn’t love a placement in a major publication? But being everywhere is just as important. Having an arsenal of great coverage provides credibility and establishes you as a thought leader.

“It’s always nice to get a major media hit or article placement in a major national publication like USA Today. However, the real value is all of the smaller placements in industry magazines (print and digital) that focus on a target-specific audience,” says Shep Hyken, customer service expert, author and speaker. “While getting a spot on the ‘Today Show’ was great for my ego, the interviews and article placements in the industry publications were great for my business.”

Equally challenging and important in managing expectations is how to measure your ROI. Having a baseline of coverage from which to measure is great and can be helpful to define “we want X number of placements.” But PR is just part of the overall marketing mix.

“Don’t look at the ROI, it’s hard to measure and nearly impossible to see direct revenue,” says Mitchell Levy, Thought Leader Architect of THiNKaha. “What you are looking for is increased awareness leading to more opportunities for you and your team to engage with your future advocates. Those opportunities, if handled properly, will lead to significantly increased revenue.”

You’re hiring an expert for a reason

Companies can dabble with DIY public relations. But “it’s difficult to be consistent with pitching your business while you’re trying to run your company, too,” says Susan Solovic, small business expert, entrepreneur and author.

Just as you know your business inside and out, a PR professional can find the gems of your value proposition, messaging, product, service and company to tell your story.

But you have to be working with the right people. The ability to have open dialogue and to try a variety of tactics, to be flexible and agile creates a winning strategy.

“What worked in the past may not work in the future, and you want to be working with folks that you like, trust and are willing to try a number of techniques to be able to deliver the results you’re looking for,” Levy says.

A client once said to me, “Great PR is the ability to take chicken shit and make chicken salad.” Well said! You’ve hired an expert for a reason – now let them take the lead and let them do what they do best.

Jennifer Fleming is President of TallGrass PR, a global B2B public relations firm. She’s been known to follow shiny objects. Follow her at @jkfleming.

My People-Centric Journey to CFO

By Nintex CFO, Eric Johnson

Growing up, I was always interested in business.  My dad spent his career in the corporate world, eventually becoming the CIO for a Fortune 500 transportation company.  I learned a lot from my father and became interested in business very early.  From my dad I vividly learned a few key lessons:

  • Deliver on your commitments
  • Have passion for your trade
  • Treat people right

I was fortunate to have a great role model who laid a strong foundation for me.  My dad advised that I study finance and accounting as he told me it is the language of business—that in the board room having this knowledge would be invaluable.  He was right. Since my first job, every single role that followed has come from a referral of someone I had worked with before.  I am eternally grateful for the help I received from these individuals and know that it was based on the fact, that in the prior roles, I had delivered on commitments and was viewed as a strong teammate.   

In my early roles, as a financial analyst and then as a finance manager, I focused like a laser on delivering on my commitments and making great relationships at work.  My bosses and other leaders quickly appreciated my execution and because of this I often was given the opportunity to take on extra roles.  At Merant as a Finance Manager, in a turn-around situation, I was part of a team that tripled the value of the company in about two years.  This experience led me to receive a large promotion to the Director of Finance and Accounting for the acquiring company, Serena Software, at age 27.  I quickly went from leading a two person team to a 30 person team.  The pressure was high with several critical projects.  I was fortunate to be able to lead a high performing team and was recognized with the Employee of the Year award in my first year. 

About three years later Serena needed an executive to lead WW Sales Operations.  Given my knowledge of the sales organization and working relationships with key sales leaders I was promoted to VP of WW Sales Ops.  In this role, I learned a ton about selling having the opportunity to spend time with prospects, customers, and our sales teams.  After four years in this role I was ready for a new challenge and joined Jive from a co-worker referral as the VP of Finance and Sales Ops.  We had an outstanding team, took the company public eight months later, and in the two and a half years I was there grew revenue from under $50 million to $150 million.

Throughout my career journey, I have learned to appreciate and fully understand the critical role of ensuring your team members know you care deeply about their personal success and the organization’s success.  Team members give their best when they have strong relationships with their boss, co-workers, and they are bought into the mission of the organization.  After Jive, I joined Nintex as CFO (of course, this too was based on a referral).  Nintex has an outstanding culture, combining innovation, collaboration and respect for the individual.  I am fortunate to be a CFO well before 40 at a successful high-growth software company. 

I credit my success to having had many great bosses and co-workers, combined with my commitment to execution and my concern for building great relationships.

Creating Personal Power Through Increased Adaptability

Creating Personal Power Through Increased Adaptability by Dr. Tony Alessandra
A wise person once commented, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” That is, as people begin to learn about a new topic, they tend to jump to oversimplified and incomplete conclusions. When that happens, they are often less successful than is possible. But with continuing effort, thought, and increased study, they eventually graduate to a higher level of excellence. In terms of adaptability, this means it is essential for us to understand the following principles:
1.           Adaptability is not a goal in and of itself, but a means to the end of increased personal effectiveness and success.
2.           A key to effectiveness is to realize what level and type of adaptability component(s) are the critical factors in achieving a targeted goal.
3.      Being adaptable also means assessing the other available resources that can allow you to get your desired outcomes by acting smarter.
Adaptability, then, is important because it directly relates to your degree of achieved success in relationships with other people, to coping with changing conditions around you, to managing different types of situations.
Extreme behavior can raise others’ tensions
At times people may perceive extreme adaptability as acting wishy-washy, sashaying back and forth across the fence line, or acting two-faced. Additionally, a person who maintains high adaptability in all situations and relationships may not be able to avoid personal stress. This is usually temporary and may in fact be worth it if you gain rapport with the other person.
The other extreme of the continuum is little or no behavioral adaptability. This causes people to view someone as rigid and uncompromising – on behaving at his own pace and priority.
Adaptability is important to successful relationships of all kinds. People often adopt at least a partially different role in their professional lives than they do in their social and personal lives. This is to successfully manage the professional requirements of their jobs. Interestingly, many people tend to be more adaptable at work with people they know less and less adaptable at home with people they know better. Why? People generally want to create a good impression at work, but at home may relax and act themselves to the point of unintentionally stepping on other family members’ toes. Not an attractive family portrait, but often an accurate one.
Adaptability works
Effectively adaptable people meet the key expectations of others in specific situations—whether it’s in personal or business relationships. Through attention and practice, you can achieve a balance of strategically managing your adaptability by recognizing when a modest compromise is appropriate. You’ll also understand when it’s necessary to adapt to the other person’s behavioral style.
Practice managing relationships in a way that allows everyone to win. Be tactful, reasonable, understanding, non-judgmental, and comfortable to talk to. This results in a moderate position between the two extremes. You’re able to better meet the needs of the other person as well as your own. Adapt your pace and priority. Work at relationships so everybody wins at work, with friends, on dates, and with family.
When you try to accommodate the other person’s expectations and tendencies, you automatically decrease tension and increase trust. Adaptability enables you to interact more productively with difficult people, helps you in strained situations, and assists you in establishing rapport and credibility. It can make the difference between a productive or an ineffective interpersonal relationship. And your adaptability level also influences how others judge their relationships with you. Raise your adaptability level—trust and credibility soar; lower your adaptability level—trust and credibility plummet.
Another way of looking at this whole matter is from the perspective of maturity. Mature persons know who they are. They understand their basic DISC behavioral type and freely express their core patterns. However, when problems or opportunities arise, they readily and deliberately make whatever adjustments are necessary in their core patterns to meet the needs of the situation or relationship. Immature persons, on the other hand, lose effectiveness in dealing with the real world when they lock into their own style. By disregarding the needs of others, they end up causing conflict and tension that lead to less satisfaction and fulfillment in their life environments.

Sales and Consumer Care May Know More About Your Customers Than Marketing and Production

by Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey


Your marketing people have done a fine job of creating a marketing plan, strategy, and package. They’ve considered the market, the competition and the delivery systems. They have honed the message, dialed in the positioning, and developed the compelling logo, catch phrase, and merchandising materials. But like any aircraft designer, they must eventually launch it; then be ready to redesign it based on the constant feedback they get from the pilots who are actually flying it through the headwinds, storms and down drafts.

Who are the folks who intimately know what’s right and wrong with the program? Who knows first about the changes in the marketplace, attacks by the competition, and the nuances necessary to keep the brand image and experience excellent? Who are the pilots of the customer experience? Your sales and customer care people.

In some companies marketing and production are considered to have a higher status than sales and customer care. Too often sales is viewed simply as “sales execution,” and customer care is viewed as “complaint resolution.” This attitude can result in restricting the information flow from the consumer to production and marketing.

Relevance is the key to an excellent customer experience and brand image. Your products must remain relevant and leading edge in a market filled with alternatives, creative initiatives by your competitors, and constant changing circumstances on the ground. Who knows about these shifting conditions and challenges first? Your sales people. Now they are not just executing sales – now they are your best source of timely tactical and practical feedback. Your marketing people should listen up and even thank them for sharing their street smarts!

Relevance is also a function of “complaints.” In fact complaints are a gold mine of information that will keep your products and services relevant. Your customer care people are in touch with your end users daily. They know more than anyone in your organization about what’s going on with your customer experience. Only one in a thousand complainers actually take their precious time to call and talk with your company about their concerns. The others just walk. But the complainers really want to improve their experience with your product. Sure, they want a resolution, but more importantly, they want your production people to hear their concerns to help keep “their brand” relevant. Do your customer care people have a clear channel to you production people? Better yet, do your production people respect their input as extremely valuable? Or do they see it as a threat to their job security coming from a perceived ‘lower’ level in the company?

The problems begin when the company culture dictates that there are separate divisions that are higher or lower than each other, rather than working together as a team. When the sales people are considered “outside” and the customer care people are in a call center; and everyone else is “inside” there is can be a disconnect. The other departments have direct access to top management on a daily basis and can easily outnumber sales and customer care.  So at a C-Suite level, do you allow a misguided view of structural status to block sincere and valuable feedback coming from your end-user?

Ironically, from a status standpoint, if you really do put the customer on top, you must realize that sales and customer care come next on the totem pole. That’s how you stay relevant, practical, and excellent.

Everybody says they want to give exceptional customer service, but they must be willing to hardwire their companies to provide sales and customer feedback to marketing and production for a dynamic brand image and experience. Stay informed and stay relevant!

For related complimentary business resources and graphics, please visit: www.barefootbonus.com.

Copyright © 2015 by Footnotes Press, LLC

Michael-Bonnie-ProfessionalMichael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Wine, the largest bottled wine brand in the world, and authors of the New York  Times Bestselling Business book The Barefoot Spirit. From the start, with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative strategies to overcome obstacles, create new markets and foster key alliances. Michael and Bonnie now share their experience and entrepreneurial approach to business as consultants, authors, speakers, and workshop leaders. Michael and Bonnie launched at the C-Suite Network Conference their new companion book to The Barefoot Spirit entitled, The Entrepreneurial Culture, 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. Learn more at thebarefootspirit.com, and find them on Facebook and Twitter @barefoot_spirit.

Customer Service – The DISC Styles Way!

by Dr. Tony Alessandra

Everywhere you turn today, you hear about the importance of customer satisfaction. From the bank to the phone company to the video store, every business seems to proclaim “The Customer Is King,” that “People Are Our Business,” that “Your Satisfaction Is Our No.1 Goal.”

So, you might think that service is getting better with each passing moment. Surveys, though, suggest otherwise. In fact, one customer in four is said to be thinking about leaving the average business at any given time because of dissatisfaction.

What’s wrong? One answer is that that too many companies and employees view customer support as something that happens once and then is over. But true service focuses not on a one-time event but on building a sustained, positive relationship.

A second reason for poor service is that we often treat customers and clients as if they’re all pretty much the same. But only by honoring their individuality can we hope to build lasting rapport. Firms and people with a positive attitude toward service know that each contact–even a conflict or a complaint–is an opportunity that may never come again. Such encounters typically fall into three categories:

Moments of Magic: Positive experiences that make customers glad to do business there.

Moments of Misery: Negative experiences that irritate, frustrate, or annoy.

Moments of Mediocrity: Routine, uninspired service that leaves neither a strong positive impression nor a strong negative impression.

Moments of Magic might include a hotel clerk who greets you with a warm smile, uses your name, shakes your hand, and sincerely asks that you call her with any problems. You remember such experiences.

But you probably remember even more clearly Moments of Misery, such as clerks who won’t take responsibility for solving problems–personnel who don’t know what they’re doing-and worse yet, don’t seem to care–or salespeople who first ignore you, then act as if they’re doing you a favor by taking your money. We’ve all had those experiences, but usually not more than once at the same place. Because we don’t go back.

Exceeding Expectations

The key to creating a Moment of Magic is exceeding a customer’s expectations. Sounds simple enough. But because people’s expectations vary according to personality type, what works for one may not work for another.

Handling a complaint is one of the most common, yet difficult, service situations, for customer and employee alike. So we’re going to look at that process and how we can use knowledge of the DISC behavioral styles to create Moments of Magic.

As anyone who’s ever dealt with upset customers can attest, they can be a diverse bunch: some loudly belligerent, some agitated but overloading you with details, others low-key and almost apologetic. But if you respond the same way to the belligerent, the agitated, and the apologetic, you might increase the irritation for some of them. You might even produce a Moment of Misery.

That’s because each style shows different symptoms of stress and reacts in different ways. But if you can recognize and respond to these patterns, you can reduce stress, yours and theirs.

Dealing with High ‘D’ Dominance Styles

As complainants, High D’s can be aggressive and sometimes pushy. And they may become intrusive, perhaps saying something like, “I demand to see the president this instant!” or “If you don’t furnish me every last bit of correspondence in this matter, you’ll hear from my lawyer in the morning.”

High D’s may appear uncooperative, trying to dictate terms and conditions. But ask yourself: what do they need? You can help defuse them by providing:

  • Results, or at least tangible signs of progress;
  • A fast pace;
  • Evidence that they have control of the situation;
  • A belief that time is being saved.

The last thing you should do is to assert your authority and argue with the High D’s. They’re not going to be listening, and they’ll probably out-assert you. “Nobody ever won an argument with a customer” is an axiom of service. And that’s doubly true with High D’s.

Dealing with High ‘I’ Influence Styles

High I’s with a complaint may seem overeager and impulsive. “I need this settled right this moment,” they might say, despite your logical explanation of why this complex situation can’t possibly be cleared up for 48 hours. High I’s, usually skilled in verbal attack, may also come across as manipulative, perhaps saying, “I wonder if a letter to your CEO and chairman of the board would improve your attitude?”

Under stress, High I’s’ primary response may be to disregard the facts and anything you say. But you can address their needs by giving them:

  • Personal attention;
  • Affirmation of their position;
  • Lots of verbal give-and-take;
  • Assurance that effort is being saved.

You may think the best course is to sit there impassively and let the High I’s harangue you. But, actually, you’d probably be better off to give them a quick-paced, spirited explanation that shows you aren’t just brushing them off.

Dealing with High ‘S’ Steadiness Styles

High S’s are the least likely to be loud and argumentative. When they do come forward, they may appear submissive, hesitant, or even apologetic. Worse yet, they may not even complain openly but just internalize their dissatisfaction and then take their business elsewhere. So if you suspect a problem, you may need to draw them out.

High S’s hate conflict, so they just wish this whole problem would go away, even if it weren’t necessarily settled in their favor. “I’m sorry to make such a big deal out of this,” they often say.

High S’s will be made most comfortable if you:

  • Make them feel they’re personally “okay”;
  • Promise that the crisis will soon ebb;
  • Guarantee that the process will be relaxed and pleasant;
  • Show you’re committed to working with them to iron out the problem and save the “relationship.”

You might be tempted to think the diffident RELATER is not to be taken seriously and can be shunted aside with mere lip service. But, remember, they’re just as upset as High D’s are; they just express it in a much more low-key way. And they’ll quietly go elsewhere if their needs aren’t met.

Dealing with High ‘C’ Conscientious Styles

High C’s won’t loudly carp and cajole like High D’s or High I’s, but they won’t be submissive, either. And their complaints may have a sharper edge to them than will the High S’s.

High C’s tend to recite the chronology of events and the litany of errors they’ve had to endure. They’ll provide data and documentation and get quite involved in the details of the snafu.

Here’s how you can lessen tension with complaining High C’s:

  • Suggest that they’re right
  • Explain the process and details
  • Show appreciation for their accuracy and thoroughness
  • Help them save face”

You may see them as compulsives more hung up on the process and on showing they’re right than getting the problem resolved. But if you want to retain their loyalty, you’ll deal with them precisely and systematically, emphasizing your firm’s interest in seeing justice done.

An Important Head Start

Knowing and using The Platinum Rule to deal with complaints gives you an important head start toward creating a Moment of Magic. It allows you to collaborate with your customers in solving the problem, reducing the likelihood that they’ll make outrageous demands, become abusive or take their business elsewhere.

In fact, studies show that customers who feel that a business has responded to their complaints are more likely than non-complainers to do business there again. They actually become more loyal than if the problem never happened.

So look at your complaints as opportunities to show much you really care about the customer. Remember: Your customers aren’t just part of your job; your customers are the reason you have a job!


Tony_Alessandra-559410-editedDr. Tony Alessandra is the CEO of Assessment Business Center, a company that offers online 360º assessments, and a founding partner in the Platinum Rule Group, a company which has successfully combined cutting-edge technology and proven psychology to give salespeople the ability to build and maintain positive relationships with hundreds of clients and prospects. Tony is also prolific author with 27 books translated into more than 50 foreign language editions. Dr. Alessandra was inducted into the NSA Speakers Hall of Fame in 1985. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAlessandra.


by Michael Houlihan & Bonnie Harvey

These days, most companies have anything ranging from one person to a whole department dedicated to so-called “customer service.” But let’s be honest: For many of these departments truly gratifying service isn’t on the menu. They’re more like “complaint resolution” departments. They take calls or answer emails from unhappy customers and then try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible (often relying on a script or protocol), then move on to the next.

Here’s how we recommend handling customer service:

  • Give it away. We recommend winning your disappointed customers back by giving your employees room to offer them free products and/or services. That’s because when you only refund unhappy customers the money they paid, they’ll proceed to take their business elsewhere in the future. After all, you’ve given them only what’s due to them; not a compelling reason to stay. However, when you give customers free goods and services instead of, or even on top of, the refund, you’re saying, “We care about what you think! Please give us another chance to show you that we can exceed your expectations!”
  • Start a conversation. Get your employees in the habit of seeing customer service as a way for your company to get real and timely feedback about your goods and services from the people who are actually using them. Train employees to ask about the customer’s experience with your company’s products, where they bought them, how much they paid, how it performed for them, etc., and to really listen to the answers. This information is priceless for your production and marketing people because it will enable them to meaningfully improve your products and communication—which, in turn, could make the difference in your company staying relevant. So make sure your employees are proactive about starting these conversations and encourage them to share questions that get great feedback from customers with each other.
  • Look for ways to make customers happy. Yes, of course your employees should strive to win customers back whenever they’re dissatisfied. But no one at your company should just be sitting around and waiting for problems to arise. Encourage your employees to proactively think about what the company can do every day to make customers happy. These solutions don’t have to be difficult or complex. For example, at Barefoot, we thought of store displays as “retail entertainment.” We added color, fun, and seasonal theme sets for the enjoyment of our customers as they shopped. And if these displays naturally caught new shoppers’ eyes…so much the better! Again, this is another great discussion to constantly be having with your employees. Encourage them to share their ideas for creating happier customers—no matter how crazy! You never know what’s going to work.
  • Make customer service part of every employee’s job description. Ensure that everyone in your organization, from your receptionist to your office people, from your salespeople to your delivery people, and from your service people to your cashiers, knows where the money that pays their paycheck really comes from: Your customer! At Barefoot, new hires got an organization chart that showed the customer on top, as well as a “money map” that showed how the money came from the customer through the distribution channels, paid all the bills, and wound up in their paychecks.

Anyone with any customer contact should be ready to give sincere personalized attention: acknowledging the customer’s presence, making eye contact, addressing them by name, and conducting business in a helpful, friendly and personable manner. We suggest putting some teeth in this relationship by introducing incentives and bonuses based on sales, growth, and company profits.

  • Expand the definition of “customer.” When they hear the word “customer,” your employees probably think about the end recipient of your company’s product: the person who hands over the cash in order to take the merchandise home. At Barefoot, though, we found it helpful to broaden our definition of “customer,” and thus, “customer service.” Specifically, we considered everyone who bought or handled Barefoot to be a customer: In addition to shoppers, that included distributors, brokers, retailers, etc. We knew that each entity that touched Barefoot, from the winery to the shopper, “bought” it for a different reason. We tried to address each buyer’s needs while providing them with speedy service, product availability, and friendliness, because if dealing with Barefoot was easy and profitable, that meant it would be more widely available for the shoppers who wanted to buy it. It also meant more sales and profits for us, too!

Copyright © 2014 by Footnotes Press, LLC

Except from The Entrepreneurial Culture, How to Engage and Empower Your People


Michael-Bonnie-ProfessionalMichael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Wine, the largest bottled wine brand in the world, and authors of the New York  Times Bestselling Business book The Barefoot Spirit. From the start, with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative strategies to overcome obstacles, create new markets and foster key alliances. Michael and Bonnie now share their experience and entrepreneurial approach to business as consultants, authors, speakers, and workshop leaders. Michael and Bonnie launched at the C-Suite Network Conference their new companion book to The Barefoot Spirit entitled, The Entrepreneurial Culture, 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. Learn more at barefootspirit.com, and find them on Facebook and Twitter @barefoot_spirit.

5 Things You Can Learn from a Service Failure

by Mark Sanborn


When I find myself getting really bad service, I try to extract lessons I can share with my clients.

There is a national chain of upscale seafood restaurants where I’ve always enjoyed dining. I took my family, my brother and sister-in-law and mother there to celebrate my youngest son’s birthday.

The experience couldn’t have been more goofed up: Slow service, wrong drink and food orders and much more. But that isn’t the point of my story.

A manager on duty did a splendid job of salvaging the situation. She comped our meal and gave me a gift certificate to use when I returned. I was thrilled.

Until, that is, I tried to recognize her. I filled out an extensive and cumbersome online form and got an automatic response that I’d hear from corporate within five business days.

I never did.

I called corporate and explained my frustration at wanting to acknowledge an employee for great service. The woman on the phone noted my frustration and said she’d “pass it on” and started to end the call.

Wouldn’t that require her getting my name and contact information? Oh yes. At my reminder, she took the information.

A few days later I got a call from the manager of the restaurant where we’d dined. He left a message. “Sorry I didn’t call earlier. I’m going out of town for a few days but I’ll call again when I return.”

He didn’t.

And when I tried to use the gift certificate, I was unpleasantly surprised with restrictions.

The irony? I had written a Five Friends blog about my favorite restaurants and included this restaurant chain. The ongoing frustrations made me reconsider, and I replaced it with another restaurant.

What are the lessons?

  1. Make it easy for customers to contact you. Sure, you want as much information as you can reasonably get, but if you ask for too much, it is off-putting.
  2. Keep commitments, period. If you say “within five business days” (not very quick), at least make sure it happens. When you say you’ll call back later, call back later. We’ve heard it forever, but some businesses still don’t get it.
  3. Make sure the cure doesn’t further aggravate the situation. If the gift card has restrictions, tell the patron at the time you present it. If your offer to make something right has limitations, don’t forget to explain them.
  4. Creating happiness is hard, but undoing it is easy. I really wanted to express appreciation for a good manager. It shouldn’t have been difficult to do. I went from happy to unhappy.
  5. Unhappy customers don’t refer you to others. And if they are really unhappy, they send them away. I like to remind clients that word of mouth can hurt you, but word of mouse can hurt you even more. I wanted to include this restaurant in my list of favorites, but after the experience I had, I couldn’t in good conscience.

Will I ever eat there again? Possibly. Will I eat there as frequently? Not likely.

Simple service failures result in lost revenue. It is avoidable. Just learn these lessons.

*This blog originally appeared at MarkSanborn.com

Mark SanbornMark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.

All Your People are Salespeople When They Believe in Your Brand

by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey


Our new book, The Entrepreneurial Culture, 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People, launched at the C-Suite Conference in Marina Del Rey in November, 2014 (forward by Jeffrey Hayzlett). This book was written specifically for corporate executives who want to improve their company culture by borrowing techniques successful entrepreneurs use every day. They know that fostering an entrepreneurial culture, will keep their brand relevant and tap in to a profitable resource — their own people — that many large companies see only as a cost center.

Successful brand building requires fully engaged and empowered people at every level who are committed to the brand, just like the passionate folks in a start-up. One of the chapters from our new book (below) addresses this opportunity.

Always over deliver.
Today’s consumers are more informed than they ever have been. With the click of a mouse, they can compare prices, read reviews and find customer service horror stories. And they’re using that information. They don’t just go with the least expensive option, they look for value — how can they get the best experience for the best price? That’s why it’s so important that everyone at your company over deliver to your customers every time.

At Barefoot, we always strove to over deliver by meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations in quality, quantity and customer service. Prioritizing our customers’ experience over our own comfort and (sometimes) potential solvency wasn’t always easy, but it did pay off. Our customers were satisfied and remained loyal, and our company grew.

Here are some principles we followed that you should instill in the way your employees (and you!) work with your customers:

Never compromise on quality.
A product’s packaging, pricing and reputation all send the consumer signals about its value. If it lives up to those “brand promises” of quality, the customer is validated in his or her decision to buy. And until the price goes up, the quality goes down, or the packaging becomes more corporate or generic, he or she will remain loyal. The point? Consistent quality and value is king. Make sure your employees are checking and double checking quality every chance they get.

On more than a few occasions at Barefoot, the opportunity to save money on production and materials presented itself, but we nearly always turned these opportunities down because they would have affected the final product.
For example, an accountant once figured out that we could save $0.09 per wine bottle by using gold ink instead of gold foil on the label and by reducing the quality of our corks. At the time, we were selling 300,000 cases per year with 12 bottles in each case, resulting in 3,600,000 bottles. At $0.09 per bottle, the accountant concluded, our total savings would be $324,000.

The problem behind the accountant’s suggestion was the basic assumption that sales would remain at 300,000 cases per year (or more). They wouldn’t, because sales were, and still are, based on a perception of quality and authenticity. Gold foil and high-quality corks validated the consumer’s purchase and gave us a market advantage at our low everyday price point. Needless to say, we continued to use gold foil and high-quality corks.

Focus on providing excellent customer service.
How we are treated when things go wrong is more important than how we are treated when things go right. It’s when we see a company’s true colors and decide whether or not to continue buying their products. Reputation is based on excellent customer service, so make sure your employees are always going above and beyond.

Always tell the truth.
At Barefoot, we made the decision to always tell the truth no matter how painful it might be. That’s because a crucial part of over delivering is doing what’s best for your customer — and being honest is always what’s best!
We remember one situation in which Barefoot had put the wrong barcode on a store’s shipment of cabernet, which meant that the wine rung up for less than it should have. In this instance, it was our team who caught the mistake, not the customer. We could have kept our mouths shut, hoping that our error would remain unnoticed. But as soon as possible, Michael showed up at the store’s corporate office with a check for the store’s loss, plus the time and expense of dealing with the mistake. Then he described to the manager in detail how we at Barefoot were changing our internal processes to make sure that the barcode problem would never happen again. And guess what? That store thanked us for doing the right thing, and it didn’t stop ordering from us.

Always share third-party endorsements.
As consumers, we all want to know that when we give our loyalty to a brand, we’re making a smart decision. So anytime you receive awards, accolades and endorsements, have your employees share the news in as many places as possible: on the website, on the marketing materials, in their conversations with people outside the company and even on your product’s packaging, to name just a few possibilities. And do it as quickly as possible! Consumers want current validation. This is an easy (and gratifying!) way to deliver that validation to your customers.

Remember, your brand’s reputation is a very valuable — and very fragile — thing. If any of your employees under deliver, your brand will be damaged, possibly beyond repair. But when your products and services meet or exceed customers’ expectations, they are more likely to remain loyal and recommend your brand to friends, family and associates.

Michael-Bonnie-ProfessionalMichael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are the founders of Barefoot Wine, the largest bottled wine brand in the world, and authors of the New York  Times Bestselling Business book The Barefoot Spirit. From the start, with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative strategies to overcome obstacles, create new markets and foster key alliances. Michael and Bonnie now share their experience and entrepreneurial approach to business as consultants, authors, speakers, and workshop leaders. Michael and Bonnie launched at the C-Suite Network Conference their new companion book to The Barefoot Spirit entitled, The Entrepreneurial Culture, 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People. Learn more at barefootspirit.com, and find them on Facebook and Twitter @barefoot_spirit.

Extraordinary Is Your Best Defense and Offense

by Mark Sanborn


The price for sloppiness and mediocrity is higher today than it has ever been. The marketplace doesn’t reward ordinary. If customers can get better service or value elsewhere, they’ll abandon the inferior for the superior without a second thought to loyalty. You would think that this would have companies clamouring for new and inventive ways to keep customers happy. Yet, I am repeatedly astounded by the number of opportunities for optimal customer service that are completely bypassed or purposefully ignored. (See also Why Customer Service is so Bad at Most Places). Companies are typically delivering such lackluster experiences, products and services that it directly hurts their bottom line.

It is often said that valleys help us appreciate the high points in life. While that may be true, too many people seem to accept the valley as a permanent residence. Instead, we should always aim for extraordinary every time. Why? Because, ultimately, it is the best offense and the best defense for both your company and you, professionally. Here’s why — from a statistical perspective — you should be paying attention to this every time:

The Organizational Level
This Zappos case study presents a great example of how “extraordinary” in both internal and external company interactions can create a positive economic result. As Jeff Lin, former CFO of Zappos, points out, “service is a by-product of culture,” so by fostering a culture that everyone wanted to be a part of, the company drove down its mployee turnover rate to 39 percent (at the time, 150 percent was the turnover rate for typical call centers). Zappos’ prices were not (and still are not) lower than that of their competition; however, their service was and is so extraordinary that their repeat customers account for 75 percent of their business. Why would you leave a company that is taking care of you, be it on the employment or the customer service side?

The Personal Level
When Mark Murphy tracked the results of more than 20,000 new hires over time, within 18 months, 46 percent of those hires failed. Believe it or not, the predominant reason for failure (more than 89 percent of the time) had absolutely nothing to do with skill and everything to do with attitude. You can have all the professional acumen in the world, but if you can’t deliver an extraordinary experience to those around you  —regardless of where you are in the company — odds are you won’t succeed.

If you are aiming to build a profitable, long-term company, or to poise yourself for personal professional success, my ultimate advice is to aim for the extraordinary every single day. Your best offense is to start with a positive attitude or culture. And your defense? Deliver an extraordinary experience as best as you can. Either way you slice it, you can’t go wrong.

*This blog originally appeared on MarkSanborn.com.

Mark SanbornMark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted authority on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Follow Mark on Twitter @Mark_Sanborn.