The Teflon Employee

You can’t quite put a finger on why you don’t like these folks. They are just affable enough to get along with everyone, but nothing sticks. Nothing extraordinarily good or bad is generated by the Teflon employee. These are folks who arrive and leave with clockwork precision and they do approximately what is required, in an ordinary fashion. Their follow through is just adequate enough to not raise objections, and they don’t ruffle any feathers.

So deep down, beyond the small talk, do you get a bad feeling about these nice people? If so, congratulations. You want better. You believe in improvement and possible even in excellence.

Often, in order to just keep the company moving, ordinary can work just fine.
However, the Teflon employee actually understands extraordinary and chooses to be ordinary. They may sling a few dull barbs about participating or knowing how to improve, but Teflon folks just can’t find their way out of ordinary to be an proactive part of improvement.

Have they been beaten down to ordinary in a prior company where that was a good thing? These folks exist in healthy, innovative company cultures, and despite that, they will not embrace that culture. As Teflon employees, they are just a small pain in your day, not causing enough grief to warrant action, but this is why you avoid their desk and have short conversations only.

What can you do? If their role is critical enough that a major upgrade would greatly benefit the company or a project or a department, then carefully review the job description and make modifications if needed to include higher level expectations.

Then pick a few hot buttons and press way. Introduce tasks that require higher level thinking and action. Take them outside their comfort zone and load them up with the same expectations that you’d have for a superstar in that position. Then wait just a little bit for the result. Your two actions will either be positive feedback for someone who has stepped up, or documenting a stepped discussion on accountability until that person is gone. Whether they stay or leave, this is one way you can scrape Teflon.

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Small Businesses have their back to the wave and the water is cold.

The First Wave

Don’t laugh. All small businesses can recall the first time they heard the term “internet” and wondered how it might impact their business. Small businesses were some of the last entrants to take advantage of the web by investing in websites and ecommerce. Many still have minimalistic sites that were thought of as a necessary evil, and were setup by a daughter or son or the neighbor kid as a project .. and it still blows my mind they do not understand the “rinky dink” implications on their brand perception.

Small businesses (under $10mm) typically have limited technology and marketing resources are they notoriously thrifty and slow to change or try new technology.

The Bigger Wave

I simply don’t understand how these business owners CONTINUE TO ACT SMALL and ignore the potential of affordable tools that allow them to compete directly with large companies and multi-location mid size companies.

All indicators show that mobile search is outpacing desktop search and will continue to grow. One of the simple tools to compete in a mobile market is a website that is optimized for smartphones. Research indicates that mobile users are more action oriented (buying / visiting) than those desktop search users who do more investigation. Why force your users to squeeze your current website design onto a 4” screen?   This frustrates mobile users who are used to actionable mobile sites that are easy to navigate, and give mobile users just what they need.

A quick example: Dominos dominates the mobile space for online pizza ordering by making it very easy. Period. Most sole proprietor pizza houses can make it easy for mobile users to view a menu, click to call, click for directions and even order, but they don’t, and they lose business because of it. Dominos uses big-time email marketing and specials to keep their brand fresh to mobile users while small businesses typically don’t. But they can, and it does not have to be expensive or time consuming. Here are four options for small businesses to “get mobile” with websites.

DIY – The WIX solution and others offer drag and drop site creation. We find mostestablished small businesses are not well suited to DIY tech. ($)

Site Scrape – Other mobile providers will “scrape” your existing site and serve up all of your pages in lots of mobile tabs. ($$)

Mobile Optimized – These sites take just the most relevant content that will compel a mobile user to act (buy/visit). These sites do not disturb your standard website and require no intervention from your current provider. ($)

Responsive Design – For older sites, this involves a complete recoding and redesign so that a single set of content can be optimized for both desktop and mobile search. ($$$$)

Touchpoint90 uses option #3 .. the Mobile Optimized sites. We can have a mobile site for a small business up and running in two days. Cost $379 total for 12 months, with a $99/renew fee after year one.

As you hear the rumbling behind you, don’t keep your back to the wave.

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Take every 3rd person who views your website and turn them away.

By not making a company site, a school site or for that matter any website
mobile-friendly, this is pretty much what’s happening.

First impressions are critical with potential customers, and even more so on mobile, where the need for a clear message, thumb-able interface and fast action are amplified. As the screen gets smaller, your elevator pitch, your call to action and your messaging needs to be much sharper.

I think it is so ironic that a small company will advertise to mobile viewers by sticking phone numbers and a URL on car decals, but then not deliver a mobile-friendly website They are essentially saying .. look us up while you are walking (hopefully not while you are driving) and then get frustrated for 10 seconds trying to pinch and grow a standard website to meet your needs .. and then abandon the effort all together.

There are still companies that use QR codes in mobile advertising, and then drive interested users to a standard website. Crazy.

It is a SLOW progression to where small business owners are considering a mobile-friendly website. Currently mobile-sites are not on their radar; are not a pain point; are not a priority.

These arguments are on the list:
It will cost too much.
It will take too much of my time.
I don’t know where to start.
It doesn’t really matter to my customers.
I’m not happy with my standard site, so why go mobile?

Businesses need to understand that it can be simple, inexpensive and not consume
much in the way of time resources to address a mobile site. More importantly however, is that in most cases mobile sites can create a new revenue stream or keep businesses from losing a sale by catering effectively to mobile viewers. A first (mobile) impression may belong to an existing customer that visits your site on a smart phone, so this is not just about new business.

Mobile marketing does not have to break the budget or be painful to implement.
If , as a small business, you are interested in understanding a bit more about your simple options for mobile marketing, download our brief mobile marketing guide
which will get you thinking about your possibilities.

If you want to talk mobile now, we have created a fast, easy and feature rich solution to create mobile sites in 48 hours, satisfaction guaranteed. Start the conversation. or give us a call at 925-298-4940.

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What small businesses can learn (not to do) from Amazon.

I am a huge Amazon fan, like so many others.
The customer experience is exceptional. They do everything right .. almost.
Two recent stories expose “what not to do” lessons for any business.

1. Don’t piss on your own vendors just “because you can”.
2. When you take a public stance, don’t muck it up with a poorly executed message.

1. Amazon uses their massive data machine to target their own vendors who sell on Amazon. They can pick a vendor’s best selling item and then bypass that seller, going directly to the manufacturer and cut a deal for themselves, typically undercutting the original vendor. Good for customers .. yes .. in the short run, but they hurt the Amazon marketplace ecosystem and their overall reputation as a good partner in the long run.

I was doing some consulting work and in trying to solve a problem for a client,
I brought in a vendor who had a number of ideas and a solution at a good price.
My client bypassed the vendor and pieced together a solution based on the
original vendor’s ideas. By both pissing on and pissing off this vendor, my client had damaged their industry reputation and shut off a good source of innovative ideas… just because they could? It is just not good business in the long run.

Businesses should place value on ideas and execution from vendors .. it’s really about leveraging value vs. someone over for the lowest price.

Companies need to make sure a message, whether to employees, vendors or customers, is crystal clear and on point. If there is any white space (lack of information), people will fill it in with their own conjecture.

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When online Live Chat (as a support channel) goes wrong.

Larger companies use a variety of channels for supporting clients with assistance for sales, support, product questions. Many ecommerce companies push a high volume/low touch approach, where email, twitter and online chat as support dominate their lineup of tools. Smaller companies usually opt for the phone or email to support clients.

Some smaller companies can take advantage of Live Chat as a method of servicing clients,and you can tell it is their desire to cover multiple channels to accommodate client preference, but it because it is not a primary means of communication it can be a less than satisfying experience..

I prefer chat many times because if it is done right, it can yield much faster and better responses to questions than waiting on hold listening to elevator music.

The story: I initiated a chat with Acura of Pleasanton to ask a service related question. I provided my name, vehicle type and VIN number so they could lookup my records and direct me accordingly.

The Chat representative asked my vehicle type again and also asked what I wanted .. they had not read my original message. I was promised a phone call to resolve my issue. A few hours later I was called by a salesperson asking what vehicle I was interested in purchasing .. once I explained my situation (again) I was promised a call from a service representative, which never happened.

The resolution: I had business in the Tri Valley area and dropped into the dealer … and the service staff consultant (Marisol) could not have been nicer … my car was up on the rack and my issue was resolved within 30 minutes.

The lessons for smaller businesses:

• When chat is combined with offline internal service methods (an internal email, voice mail or pink while you were away slip), it is typically ales than satisfying experience for your customer.

• Empower Live Chat personnel to resolve problems and coordinate a resolution on the spot. This is the real power of live chat.

• Don’t offer Live Chat if you can’t staff it 100% reliably with enough personnel to avoid delays in initial response. Getting an offline message during business hours makes a business appear unorganized and understaffed.

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Yelp, Facebook, Urban Spoon and other ratings services can drive improvement and profits.

Ratings services like Yelp – They are flawed .. you may hate them .. you may love them, but they can indirectly drive profitability, process and service improvements – so listen up!

Yelp and others know that companies do their best to encourage or even incentivize happy customers to give positive reviews, yet consumers attach great importance to review services. Studies show that on the heels of a company website, review services are the second most popular source of information for research.

Transparency. This is what review services can provide to potential customers. It used to be reviews were in either the Wow! or “Stay Away” category, but the proliferation of ratings and the ease of use give ratings more of a bell curve, so consumers view the number of reviews, the quality of reviews and the tone or underlying theme of reviews in their research.

It is imperative that small business owners or managers listen to this source of information on a bi-weekly basis. You should be listening for underlying themes and perceptions from all reviews .. from the never-satisfied social rants to the ecstatic fans.

Unless it is directly applicable to address an individual post, the real value is trying to discern an overall pattern or theme from the mass of detail in reviews. Underlying negative themes to watch for include poor service, poor product quality, unfriendly return policy, inability to take action, poor presentation of staff, dirty work environment, lack of training, lack of standards.

No business owner enjoys reading about the “warts”; the negative comments about a business, but reviews, for the most part, are perceptions. Two people may get the exact same service or product, and while it is 1 star review for one it may be a 4 star for the other. Use perceptions are their reality, so you need to pay attention.

Whether you are aware of an underlying theme that is being mirrored in reviews or not, take action! Fixing these problems can cost little or nothing, and will have a positive affect on the bottom line, on staff morale, on your peace of mind and on your ability to turn the negative social “conversation” into an inexpensive sales tool.

Touchpoint90 can provide help quickly and inexpensively as an objective source to spot themes and create improvement. Please contact us if you’d like assistance in changing the social conversations or public perceptions regarding your business.

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Security awareness for small business

Corporate hacking is all over the front pages, but small business can be just as vulnerable, and statistics show, they just don’t think it’s of primary importance.

As much as data security is in the news, through our discussions and interactions with business owners, it appears many small companies still do not recognize the security risks with sending sensitive information via email or texting. If you have an internal IT resource, they have probably made you aware of good safety practices with regards to data. If not, we thought we’d give some brief thoughts to chew on.

Separate the keys and the car

Email messages are not encrypted, so they are not secure and anyone can read them.
How often are you passing along a login and password, or other sensitive info. Assume someone can read your message and at least use two sources to pass the info along, just let the recipient know you’ll call them to send along the password, or send it via a Carrier SMS; that way you’re using two independent sources which is much safer.


Get a Password Manager

As PC Magazine says (4/11/14) “Online merchants and secure websites aren’t doing a very good job of keeping your personal information safe. Even those sites using decent security practices may have been compromised by the recently discovered Heartbleed bug. If the bad guys nabbed your password, you’re in trouble. But if you used that same password at other sites, you’re really in trouble. You need to use a different strong password on every site, and the only practical way to do that is with a password manager”.

Sh@# follows you

European nations are currently fighting (and winning) the rights for their citizens to petition Facebook and others to “erase” links about themselves.
As Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snapchat is finding out the hard way that you don’t put your random, college-induced rants and insults into words (SMS texts in this case).

High profile people are more to susceptible being “dug up” with dirt, but all of these embarrassing moments are great lessons that people can and will dig. The nature of the Internet and online communications is “information forever”, so understand that you can’t hide from controversial posts, texts, tweets and emails. Make sure your staff is well aware of your data policy (do you have one?)

Most small business do not have an internet security policy in their employee handbook.
Be smart and integrate some sort of data policy to educate your employees and cover your exposure. Free policy templates can be downloaded at sites like this:

Be smart. Take just a bit of time to limit your exposure by training yourself and your staff.

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Will the Internet privacy backlash affect Marketing Automation?

Privacy issues and data exposure are front and center in the news. Snowden, NSA, Merkel’s phone, Target Stores and now the CIA have kept front pages busy with digital privacy and theft. These are high level cases, but more related stories are emerging about the general public’s lack of understanding of how their movements are tracked everyday online by marketing firms, search engines and others. People who “acquire” data are under fire.

Will the increased privacy concerns elevate the issue to the point where the average online user routinely blocks trackers and encrypts data?

The March 9th 60 Minutes piece The Data Brokers: Selling your personal information was an eye opener in understanding how much tracking is going on. ( If you install a browser plugin like Ghostery ( you’ll be truly amazed at what your clicks generate in terms of trackable data.

What effect will this have on all of the companies that use demand generation and marketing automation, where gathered data drives a multi-billion dollar industry?

These programs have been hugely successful for companies and are good for consumers, as online users are served more relevant content. A search for a certain software leads to banner ads touting that software on many of the sites you subsequently visit. Effective, but a little creepy.

The PBS Frontline special Generation Like is a great look into how social media, campaign management and Big Data drive branding in a way no traditional marketing could.

The good news for marketers large and small is that it appears that younger audiences in particular, are not as concerned with marketing tracking or the public nature of their “likes”.

The takeaway is to keep an eye on the privacy backlash and make sure your use of data is transparent and reasonable. Data is “king” for marketing, but news of misused data or data secured by questionable means may slowly close the spigot of value for marketing departments and marketing firms.

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High volume, low touch service is a real balancing act

An article came our a few days ago on the poor experience of customers that needed
service help from credit card payment aggregator Square. Square got slammed for seemingly going well out of their way to not provide real time phone support.

The balancing act between providing a low cost and high quality service experience is very real.

Small businesses and new startups have limited resources compared to a VC funded juggernaut, but there are good lessons learned from the Square story.

There are a few areas that will help with the customer experience … with
e-commerce products/services in particular:

Do you have a quality product? A product or service that works consistently as advertised is the best defense against customer dissatisfaction.

Expectations – Have you “set the table” with customer’s about what they should expect. This is about branding and messaging your value in everything you do.
Are you the low cost leader, the fastest fulfiller or the quality leader in product and service? This might be where Square has misstepped slightly.

Quality offline help options – A low cost provider needs rock-solid self help solutions. Exceptional and clear FAQ’s, forums and Twitter/email response are examples. These mechanisms need to be up-to-date, and response rates need to
consistently meet published times.

Attitude – The Square story revolves around a business owner who has not only had a poor experience getting in touch with someone to fix her problem, but then has sand kicked in her face when she is deemed a high risk account because of her complaints. There are always multiple sides to these stories, but overall it seems
the attitude was not to fix the problem in a timely manner. A customer-centric attitude is so critical to business success that examples like this just make you shake your head.

Escalation – Even the lowest touch, highest volume providers need to recognize when an issue should be escalated to a specialist. In a small business this is probably an owner or top manager .. but it needs to be someone who can listen well, think on their feet and has the power to create a solution.

The balance of volume and the service it takes to support that volume directly affects profitability. Take it seriously, before your company gets slammed on social media or review sites and your business is impacted.

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Profit is not a dirty word

For years I’ve marveled at 1. The speculative nature (for smaller businesses especially) of giving away information online with the expectation turning eyeballs into revenue and 2. The trend of users expecting free or nearly free services and/or quality information.

In a good New York Times article today, author Jenna Worthham, hits the nail squarely on this issue: “The core appeal of these kinds of services, at least for me, is that they cut though the cascade of stories, tweets, links and other media that flow across our screens every day, and serve up something reliably good.”

Valued Services. This is the key. If the core of your small business is a newsletter, or advice, or opinion, or even simply ease of use and savings of time, get users to pay for it. You don’t have to be apologetic. Unless you are a major content producer that can sustain the eyeballs-to-advertisers model, you’ll probably need to directly charge for your value. It costs plenty to produce valuable content, so there is nothing dirty about charging for it up front. I’m happy to use the paid portal model for NY Times, WSJ and other quality news sources as they provide direct value in depth and scope.

In reading the referenced NY Times article (below),  I am pleased to see that the slow realization that profits are needed to continue valued information services. Disruption in particular industries does not mean the emerging companies can abandon a solid business model.

If it makes sense in your small business, you can still capture new users by delaying the up front charge in favor of the “Try and Buy” method. Make it exceptionally easy to try your service. Make the buy a good value proposition.  While creating a marketing structure for small business client, I came across a very clean and intuitive CRM solution called Nutshell. They offer one of the simplest/cleanest/low pressure try and buy models I’ve seen. Nutshell offers simple value, vs. the multi-tier, pay-by-function models used by larger SAAS companies. I thought it was a great model for other companies to emulate. For some of Nutshell’s bigger competitors I could barely access screen shots to evaluate the product.  The 30 day trial Nutshell offers is ample time to kick the tires. If your product is great, it will sell itself to trial users. Then charge.

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