Monday, March 31, 2014

The power of generosity, delight, and an abundant attitude.

One of my passions is excellent customer service. It is difficult for me to go anywhere without thinking about, paying attention to, and seeing ways in which the service being provided could be improved. Many times, it does not take a budget, instead it can be the little things that make all the difference.

The link below shares some heart-warming stories on customer service. Within each you can see the two primary ingredients (generosity and delight), and the main foundation (attitude of abundance - the more freely I give, the more I will receive) upon which excellent customer service is built.

10 Customer Service Stories that will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
by Gregory Ciotti

Friday, March 28, 2014

The one thing that will not change.

By the time I finish typing this sentence, technology will have changed yet again.

Growing up, did you ever believe you would spend your day "tweeting"?

People complain that Instagram is not quick enough.

Candy Crush was actually a recent IPO -- an app maker is now a public company. How long ago was it that apps were first introduced?

When was the last time you used your fax machine?

Pay phones are now exhibits in a museum.

So, yes change is occurring rapidly and it is difficult to keep up, especially for companies that tend to move slowly.

However, through it all there is one thing that does not change, and by focusing on it first, it can actually help you navigate through all of the change.

Taking care of your customers.

Technology, social media, and the change that comes with them are only tools to allow you to take care of your customers in delightful and more personal ways.

If your attention is on the ever-changing technology and trying to keep up, then your customers will feel that. But, if your focus is on your customers, it can drive your decisions on which tools to use, and which ones to avoid.

Don't lose sight of what you are building by becoming too enamored with the shiny new tools.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why virtual schools will succeed . . .

. . . is the obligation I owe to you after my last blog, even though I touched on it there too.

The virtual schools that succeed are the ones that embrace the new paradigm. They will move away from the old mindset of marketing to the masses and serve the outliers, the weird. They will stop watching the daily enrollment numbers. And, they will understand that retention is not a program that launches every March.

What will they do instead? Three main things that all other activities revolve around.

1. Make retention a culture

Virtual schools that comprehend there really is no such thing as an "Enrollment Department" will begin to understand the positive impact that can have on their culture. Remember, retention begins at the point someone pays attention to what you are saying, not each March.

It then extends to each and every thing you do as a school -- in reality, even the next two items revolve around this one.

2. Be in the connection business

Successful virtual schools will be the ones who are in the connection business as much as the academic. The internet has transformed our world into a connection economy -- the old way of doing business is either over already, or quickly coming to an end. Virtual schools, by their very nature, have the ability to take advantage of this new paradigm and be an environment of connection.

3. Speak clearly and fulfill your promises

Not talking about annunciation here. No, this has more to do with communicating the expectations, responsibilities, commitments, and challenges clearly, succinctly, and authentically. Stay away from "marketing" terms, and speak with clarity.

And, when you make a promise, make sure you fulfill it. If you want to inspire loyalty, then fulfill it in an unexpected, delightful way to the student/family.

Understand though, knowing what to do is different than knowing how to do it. Implementing these three items (and all the other ones that wrap around these) will not be of help to you unless you do it the right way -- and that takes authenticity more than a strategy.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why virtual schools will fail . . .

. . . has everything to do with trying to be all things to all people. It rarely works. Companies that try to serve the masses end up offering mediocre products (Proctor & Gamble comes to mind). And, virtual schools that attempt to serve every kind of student end up offering a mediocre experience, wrapped in a mediocre education.

One of the reasons virtual schools came into existence was due to the fact that many traditional public schools were not effective. And yet over the past decade so many of these same virtual schools have begun to mirror their ineffective brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Companies that excel, that stand out, are ones that know who they want to serve, and they center their attention on them - these people are the outliers (as Malcolm Gladwell calls them), the weird (as Seth Godin calls them), those that live on the edge, not in the middle. The days of successful companies catering to the masses are over. The same is true for virtual schools.

A virtual school that takes the time to identify who will benefit the most from their educational offerings, and cater to them will be the school that stands out, that grabs attention, and the one who leads the next wave of online learning.

Where you look for these students matters. Why? Most of them are not in the mass, they are on the edge. Is a school willing to go there in order to serve them? For many, the answer is "no." However, for those who are, the opportunity to be excellent awaits.

Rather than be a mediocre school for all kinds of students, be an excellent school for a select group of students, and serve them well.

Note: "Select" does not equal "Less"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

We all make mistakes . . .


We apologize for the inconvenience. For some reason one of our employees did not fulfill the orders for this date so a lot of our customers did not receive their items, Thank you for your time.
We are very sorry about this issue, the best we can do is refund our customers and let them know about the mistake then hope that they can work with us because everyone makes mistakes but only some with go the extra mile to fix the problem. So again, we apologize. 

Would you like us to resend out your order?

This was the reply I received last evening after waiting over two weeks for an order to arrive. And, after the order did not arrive by the due date yesterday, I reached out to the seller to find out the issue, and also find out why the FedEx number they provided me was inaccurate. So, let's journey through this reply, and the email thread that followed. It was definitely an intriguing experience.

"We apologize for the inconvenience" -- it was a nice start, even though they did know my name yet failed to use it in the opening line.

The next line is very interesting to me -- let's blame it on some employee who for some reason failed to fulfill the orders, yet did not fail to send out an incorrect FedEx number and show online that the item had indeed shipped.

Then, "Thank you for your time." -- not even sure what to say about this one.

Next, they move back into apology mode with "We are very sorry about this issue, . . ." but then proceed to tell me the best they can do is to refund "our customers" (notice they do not even address it as an issue for me, instead they speak about all of their customers during that time frame).

So, after they refund the orders, they are then going to let the customers know about their mistake, and hope that the customers will continue to work with them because "everyone makes mistakes."

Now, I was fine so far, slightly confused, but fine. Then, I came to the next line that states, "but only some (will) go the extra mile to fix the problem."

Extra mile? Before someone can go the extra mile, they must go the first mile. Extra mile? Ok, let's see what that extra mile will be.

My request was simple -- "Can you ship my product overnight so it will arrive to me tomorrow?"

Below is the answer I received moments later:

That is fine, and sorry but fedex does not let us expedite our shipping since we ship out hundreds of items at once however we could try but we will not promise you overnight shipping.

FedEx does not allow them to ship overnight? So, the extra mile does not include someone grabbing the product off of the shelf, printing out an overnight label from FedEx, placing the label on the box, and then ensuring that it is part of the lot when FedEx arrives to pick up all of the other "hundreds of items." No, that would be too much to ask, because for them, that is far beyond the extra mile.

What was the extra mile?

I can promise you that the order will be process and shipped tonight and should be there no later than 3 days.

FedEx will evidently allow them to ship products within 3 days, but not overnight. And, I was originally promised the item would arrive yesterday, two weeks after my original order was placed.

They were correct when they said "we all make mistakes." We all do make them. And, it is a time when we can go the extra mile. In fact, when mistakes are made, sometimes they allow you to actually build more trust with your customers by the way you handle, correct, and solve those mistakes.

Most of the time though, those efforts fall short, and trust is eroded. The difference sometimes between building trust and eroding trust is a FedEx label.

Monday, March 17, 2014

We offer a "rigorous" curriculum . . .

Below is the definition of "rigorous" from


  [rig-er-uhs]  Show IPA
characterized by rigorrigidly severe or harsh, as people, rules, or discipline: rigorous laws.
severely exact or accurate; precise: rigorous research.
(of weather or climate) uncomfortably severe or harsh; extremely inclement.
Logic, Mathematics logically valid.

Not sure the words "harsh," "severe," and "extreme" are the ones I would want to associate with my curriculum.

Words matter, so choose them carefully.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I expect you will listen to me. I hope you will hear me.

Listening to your customers merely means you are paying attention to them in order to hear what they have to say. That much they expect of you.

Hearing them goes much deeper where you perceive, discern, apprehend, and even comprehend.

You can applaud yourself for all of the ways you listen to your customers, but if you never hear what they are telling you, it only creates frustration.

Focus on hearing them, on discerning what they are telling you, on understanding their wants that they are trying to convey. If you can serve their wants, you can delight them.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Celebrating failure . . .

. . . may be exactly what you need to do.

If everything has to be done perfectly, then new ideas and innovation will suffer.

On the other hand, if failure (with good intent) is viewed equally with success, then you might just change the world.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Want referrals? Build relationships.

Ask any virtual school and they will tell you that word-of-mouth is the greatest asset to increasing their enrollments. Friends sharing their experience with others, inviting them to learn more, those are what show up time and time again as the number one driver for new students.

And yet, these same schools continue to increase their media costs by focusing on digital, television, radio, and even print ads while ignoring the potential for referrals. Of course, asking for referrals means you have to have built the relationship prior to the ask, or else it will fall flat.

Perhaps this is why virtual schools rely on the traditional media strategy, trying hard to find more leads to toss into the top of the funnel with the hope of more falling out at the bottom after being sifted through, while existing families leave at an alarming rate each year.

Building real relationships with your families and students requires vulnerability, authenticity, care, concern, time, effort, commitment, and desire. It is easier to sit in an office and develop a media strategy from afar, reading the data points, analyzing emerging trends, and searching for ways to increase click through rates by another .05%.

The problem though is that it is also riskier. Media strategies will not build loyalty. Relationship Strategies can. It is not a play on words, and understand that media plans arise out of Relationship Strategies, but the focus, the intent, and the outcome is different.

Relationship Strategies open you up to the potential of building authentic bonds with your students and families. And, as you strengthen these bonds with each and every touch point opportunity, it becomes only natural for you to be able to ask your families to share their experience with others.

Imagine a virtual school web site that said, "95% of our families say they would recommend us to a friend. And, 95% of them did."

What is your goal? "Would" or "Did"? A well-defined, genuinely-executed Relationship Strategy can move you from "would" to "did" when it comes to referrals.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Find another way, and you will be wealthy

As I write this I am currently sitting in an airport (yet again) watching airlines delay and cancel flight after flight. Passengers are increasingly becoming frustrated, and airline employees working feverishly (and hopelessly) to do what they can to help the stranded. And, if that is not enough, the Starbucks cannot take orders due to their machines not working.

My last four flights have either been delayed or cancelled due to weather primarily, but also to mechanical issues. If there is a trend emerging, this is it -- waiting, delays, cancellations, and frustration.

And yet, I see advertisements from airlines saying things such as -- "Building a better American," United has evidently resurrected "Fly the friendly skies," and Delta tells us they want to "Keep climbing."

American has to build a better one, because right now the one they have is far from great.

United? Friendly skies? Wouldn't know for sure, every time I have to fly with them, they seem to cancel their flights. So, their skies may be friendly, but they can't seem to get me there.

Delta? They can keep climbing, just not sure where they are headed on that journey. Perhaps next time they can chart a destination before they start the climb.

My preference would be to see airlines focus on performance rather than slogans. Until then, their advertising lacks authenticity.

Actually, my preference would be to have someone develop a true alternative to flying. If someone could find another way, they would be wealthy. Instead of launching another airline with the promise of "on-time departures and arrivals," "expanded seating," "friendly agents," and more, someone please find a completely different way to take us from Point A to Point B.

And, when you do, can you make sure your Starbucks can serve coffee. I need a Venti right about now.