Going buggy

state insectI am officially a curmudgeon.

A week or so ago, I heard a story on the radio about a second grade class that was working to make the firefly Indiana’s state insect. The kids conducted a postcard campaign to their state senator and representatives to introduce a bill and put it up for vote.

Great, you say. How better for the kids to learn about government, you say.

While I can’t disagree with that logic, I can disagree with the entire premise. While those (incredibly resourceful, passionate, precocious) children are learning how our legislature operates, our legislators get bogged down with one more unnecessary measure. Aren’t we paying them to take care of things like schools and roads and safety and general welfare and oh, you know, important stuff?

Look, I love kids and I’m all about making learning fun and meaningful. Really and truly. I want teachers to find as many ways as possible to engage their students. But not this one.

I mean, look. Indiana legislators have enough to do as they try to fix the mess (they made) with standardized testing, the integrity of the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and religious freedom. Bills routinely die on the vine because there’s not enough time in a legislative session to move them all through the process anyway. Basically, they’ve got a lot to do, so I’d like them to focus on the things that matter.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. A similar bill was introduced in the 1990s, but it failed to advance because one senator refused to hear it. One. In my book, he’s the only one who stood up and said, Hey! This isn’t what you’re paying me to do! Forty-nine other senators forgot that.

How about this: the second grade teacher could organize a mock legislature and the kids could prepare, introduce, and debate the bill themselves. They could follow it through the process to understand what it takes not only for a bill to become law, but also how an issue even gets to the bill stage. Heck, they could even have their legislators come in and be part of the fun–once the General Assembly has adjourned, of course. Lawmaking not a quick or even a simple process (check out the rules HERE), but I’m pretty sure they’d learn a lot more about making things happen if they did it themselves–and they’d appreciate it a whole lot more, too.

I don’t want to be mean. I just want to keep our government on track. Unless our lawmakers are trying to figure out how to pay for mosquito spraying to ward off West Nile virus or malaria or something, insects shouldn’t even be on their radar.

Like I said, I’m a curmudgeon.

Easter eggs

Easter-EggsSomething popped up on my Facebook feed the other day that I can’t get out of my head, and not in a good way.

XX days till Easter! Have you ordered your FREE tickets yet?

A church pimping tickets for its Easter service?! They did the same thing at Christmastime, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, the church makes it clear that the tickets are free, and a couple of friends have told me that the tickets are just for number-planning purposes. I’ve been assured they won’t turn anyone away.

It still doesn’t feel right to me.

From a marketing perspective, I get it. Issuing tickets combines implications of limited time and limited supply to create a sense of urgency. It can be an effective tool to make people want to jump in and commit right away.

But this is church. Church.

And while I’ll be the first to admit that my faith is pretty lapsed right now, this isn’t right. The mission of the (Christian) church is to save the lost. Tickets are for people who already want to be there, not those who may be inclined to slip in unnoticed to see what they can find to help with their struggles. Or people with questions they don’t know how to ask. Or people looking to make some kind of change. Generally those people are much more tentative, and tickets make it a BIG DEAL.

I’m told that this church won’t turn anyone away who doesn’t have a ticket, but I’ll wager that people who are not in-the-know will assume otherwise. If you were driving by a church that had “Call 555-1212 to get tickets to our Easter service!” what would you think? And if you decided on Easter Sunday to find a service–as many people do–I’ll bet you don’t land at that church. You’ll probably assume it’s too late because you didn’t call ahead. I know I would.

What about the argument that issuing tickets is for number-planning purposes only? My response has four letters: WWJD? For those of you familiar with the New Testament–the foundation of the Christian church, like the one I’m addressing here–think of the loaves and fishes story. There’s a clear answer to WWJD: he’d preach away and let the crowd gather, the bigger the better. Everything else eventually took care of itself.

You can tell me all you want that the come-as-you-are approach is not realistic, but remember, the church embraces the NT as fact. It is supposed to base its teachings AND actions on it.

I’m not inviting religious debate here. I’ll have whatever discussion you want in private, but not here. My point, as always, is that WORDS MATTER. The words “get your tickets” are a communications snafu for a church.

Sure, they create a sense of urgency to commit to the Easter service, but only for those already planning to attend. For everyone else, they create a barrier. They’re off-putting.

Believe it or not, I think more churches should apply marketing principles to their outreach efforts; there are so many ways to generate interest. But the right tactic has to be selected for each effort, whether you run a church, a business, a school, a club, or anything else.

Unfortunately, that church laid an egg on this one.

Kicking the tires

flat tireMy kids and I pack a lot into our days. With work, school, practices, rehearsals, committees, and social lives tugging us in different directions, we sometimes have to get creative in order to spend time with each other. That’s how I came up with the idea of having my kids tag along on my runs–on their bikes.

A few years ago on one of spring’s earliest days, I laced up my running shoes to take advantage of the warm air and colorful blossoms. I invited my daughter to come with me so that we could steal a few moments together. She said yes, grabbed her bike, and off we went.

Before we proceed, you have to understand that my dazzling princess is somewhat averse to physical exertion, or at least she was at the time. Previous runs through the neighborhood with her on foot had resulted in my frantic assessment of potential onlookers to see if anyone might be calling Child Protective Services as my daughter screamed things like, “Stop hurting me!” “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why won’t you let me stop?!” and “You’re a MEAN WHALE!” Keep in mind that these exclamations generally came about five minutes into any activity after she remembered what she might be missing on TV.

Back to the story.

A block into our run/ride, dear daughter started complaining. It was too hard. It made her legs hurt. Could we please go home? Shaking my head, I pressed on, shouting over my shoulder, You have wheels! I only have feet. Keep up! After another block of ever-increasing complaints, the grousing stopped. Relieved, I looked back to see whether my daughter had caught up with me.

Rather than being hot on my tail, she was a block behind me, feet firmly planted on the sidewalk, wheels stationary. She refused to budge.

As I retraced my steps wondering how to cajole her into continuing, a tiny thought weaseled its way into my brain. I don’t think she has had her bike out since last fall. I wonder if she needs air in her tires…

I arrived at her fortified position and squeezed the rubber. Sure enough, her tires were flat. Not just low on air, but completely flat. No wonder she was complaining; she was riding on the rims! Every revolution of her pedals took extreme effort for her little legs. Oops. Bad mom moment. Her complaints were valid this time.

That incident is never far from my mind, and I’ve become extra-vigilant about checking tires before bike rides. As I’ve chuckled sheepishly over the memory, I’ve also realized there was a greater lesson embedded in it than the effects of winter storage on air pressure: never, ever stop listening.

You see, I know my daughter and her patterns. When a situation seems to fit a pattern, it’s pretty easy to check the box and tune out; it’s all about context, right? Of course, that’s exactly the moment when I risk missing something important.

I’m a huge proponent of understanding context, but paying too much attention to the context can sometimes crowd out the facts. Like tire pressure.

Take five

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book that came well recommended. I hated it. Even so, it was fairly short and an easy read, so I gutted it out to the end. I dutifully entered my rating on goodreads.com (1 star out of 5) and moved on.

Now I find myself thinking about that book.

Without giving too much away, most of the book takes place over the course of just a few hours. A difficult situation turns into an argument which then escalates well past the point that either party intended, mostly (IMHO) because neither can figure out how to stop. The long-term consequences are, well, long-term.

I didn’t find it tragic, just stupid.

Then I got into a real-life argument of my own.

A simple infraction escalated. There were heated words and the digging of heels into position. It built momentum and kept going.

It went on so long that the disagreement moved into peripheral areas, ostensibly for no other reason than to keep it going. I tired of the discussion, but I didn’t know how to end it. So we forged ahead, our words pricking and poking in ways that would force the healing process from simple first aid to rehabilitation.

Just like the book, it was stupid and senseless.

I wonder how many of the turns we take in life are the result of not having an exit strategy, how many times we plunder on because we don’t know what else to do, how often we end up somewhere we never intended yet could have prevented. Those usually aren’t happy places.

The simplest strategy in cases like these is to take a break. Pipe up with, Let’s take a few minutes to collect our thoughts and then revisit this. That’s it. No one faces defeat, no one has to concede. Just take five. Better yet, take ten. The issue at hand won’t have gone away by the time you reconvene, but the heat will have dissipated. Chances are, you’ll only need a few minutes after that to find some common ground.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather choose where I land than end up there by accident. When my journey doesn’t go as planned, I need to find an exit strategy–even if that strategy is as simple as taking five.

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, the book I mentioned is On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. After thinking more about it, I might be willing to give it 2 stars out of 5.

Fuzzy math

Fuzzy-mathI’m a firm believer in say-what-you’ll-do, do-what-you-say. If I make a promise, I try hard to keep it. If I don’t think I can do something, I don’t commit (most of the time–I’m human, after all). I figured this was pretty standard procedure for everyone, but an event that occurred several years ago set me straight.

Someone close to me and I were discussing our busy schedules, and after hearing about all the projects he had on his plate, I was convinced that he had way overcommitted. I encouraged him to reevaluate and extricate himself from a couple of things, hoping to avoid frustration down the road. He was adamant that he would stick to his guns, even though he acknowledged he couldn’t get it all done. Here’s what he told me:

If I can only complete 80% of what I’ve promised, then I’ll promise 120% of what I think I can do. That way, I’ll get 100% done.

Stunned silence followed.

Any way you figure that, it just doesn’t work. What about the people who were promised something who didn’t receive it? Just because they fall outside the so-called 100% threshold, that doesn’t mean they’ll be any less disappointed. I’m sorry, [friend, boss, child, colleague, teacher], I didn’t do what I said I would, but look at all this other stuff I got done. Aren’t you proud of me? Yeah, right.

Besides that, the math doesn’t work: 80% of 120% is 96%–not 100%. No matter what, someone is going to end up frustrated and disappointed. The damage to your credibility isn’t worth it; sometimes you just have to say no. Otherwise, all you’ve got is fuzzy math.

Bad joke

A girl walks into a bar and orders a hard cider.

If you think that’s the start of a bad joke, you might be right. Last Sunday, my usual compatriots and I decided to head downtown early and grab a bite to eat before we made our way to the stadium for the Colts game. Although we arrived in plenty of time for the game, we did not arrive in plenty of time to beat the like-minded crowd. We finally found a pub that had room for us after several false starts.

When the server arrived with the requisite, Can I get you something to drink to get you started? my buds ordered Buds while my beer-averse self opted for hard cider. The server promptly let me know that his establishment didn’t carry anything of the sort, so I opted for a glass of water while I mulled my options.

When he returned with my buds’ Buds and some menus, I decided to give it another shot. How about a Mike’s hard lemonade? I asked. Or something along those lines? Again, I got a no, but this time it was accompanied by a lecture on why they didn’t have those things and why it was ridiculous for me to even expect such a thing. Really, he did.

Um, excuse me sir, but I’m the customer. You just don’t lecture customers.

Later, one of my companions told me that he could visibly see my mood change as the server held forth. He was right, of course; that rude interaction–not the fact that the bar didn’t have my drink of choice, but the way the server handled it–put a damper on the next part of my afternoon.

I eventually recovered, but I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I don’t know why the guy didn’t just say, I’m sorry, but we don’t have that. Instead, his attempt to establish his superiority cost him three customers when we paid for our libations and left without ordering lunch. Since the place didn’t have people lined up at the door to get in, I would have thought he would have cared a lot more about keeping us happy.

Come to think of it, now I understand why it was so easy to find a table there. I guess the joke’s on them.

Data mining

When this email landed in my inbox, it piqued my interest. My days at Custom Mattress were long ago and relatively short-lived–spanning my first four post-college years. The company closed its doors a couple of years after my departure, and I haven’t crossed paths with anyone from that phase of my life for years. Naturally, I was curious. Who could be orchestrating that blast from my past?

When I opened the email to investigate, It took about 1.67 seconds to realize that I had been played. The sender had simply mined information from my LinkedIn profile and used it to, ahem, reach out to me in a pseudo-personal way. Into the electronic recycle bin it went.

That should have been the end of the story, but I received several additional emails to follow up. (Apparently I need to update my spam filter.) Finally, I received a phone call to follow up on the emails. The woman on the other end of the phone sounded quite chipper and was eager to connect with me. Unfortunately for her, my mild annoyance had morphed into outright hostility at her deviance. I let her know that I thought she had gone too far–in no uncertain terms.

I’m a marketer. I understand the importance of making connections and the value of data mining. The one key element that people most often miss, however, is sincerity. Insinuating a connection that isn’t genuine leaves people feeling duped, and the effort falls flat. If you don’t have a real connection to me, don’t fake it. You’ll get much further by being up-front and honest.

Enough said.

First impressions

A friend sent me this clip over the weekend with the following commentary:

I see the language (or variations)  all the time in print and hear it a lot in personal conversations—-business or otherwise. When we see it or hear it don’t we immediately form a positive or negative impression of that person?

Wonder how many business deals go “south” because of this?

My friend is absolutely right about this. Whether we realize it or not, the language we use makes an impression on others. More importantly, people form opinions based on those impressions. It happens almost instantaneously, and usually subconsciously.

The way I see it, there were two mistakes in this article. The quarterback’s double negative is the more obvious, but what about the newspaper’s role in perpetuating it? I understand that this is a direct quote, but there is an editorial convention that should have been employed to address it: sic. By NOT following the original error with [sic], I am led to believe that 1) the writer didn’t notice the error, 2) the writer didn’t care about the error, and/or 3) the paper’s editing/proofreading staff also neither noticed nor cared.

People often make mistakes in the spoken word. Even I end a sentence with a preposition now and then, occasionally drop the Gs from my words in typical Midwestern fashion, or carelessly split an infinitive. Sometimes (hopefully this applies to the quarterback), we talk faster than we think. Dealing in the written word, however, the newspaper has both the time to employ appropriate language standards and the duty to uphold them. After all, the written word lives much longer and can be oft revisited. As grating as I found the original comment, I am much more disappointed in the newspaper.

Yes, I form opinions based on people’s language, and whether you realize it, so do you. Someone once said that a person never gets a second chance to make a first impression. That’s not for nothin’.

Thanks for indulging my grammar rant. I hope you didn’t find it too esoteric; I really believe that words matter.

E = mc2

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Yesterday I wrote about an outstanding customer service experience at my car dealership; today I’m going to address its alter ego. Sadly, I recently had a hotel experience that was as bad as my car experience was good.

In a nutshell, I arrived late at night at a hotel where I had a reservation. In fact, not only did I have a confirmation number, but upon making the reservation, I had also coughed up a one-night deposit toward my stay. Check-in should have been nothing more than a perfunctory swipe-the-credit-card-hand-over-the-room-key process.

Alas, it was not to be.

As soon as I gave the night clerk my name, she told me that the hotel no longer had a room for me. They had, as she brusquely told me more than once, “a head in every bed.” After a few minutes of flabbergasted and indignant conversation, I had no choice but to move to the alternate hotel where she had placed me for the night. Note that even though said hotel was a 20-minute drive and I did not have a rental car, the clerk did not even offer transportation.

After my night in exile, the hotel manager called me to make amends. She offered an apology and to pay for my entire stay. She said all the right things and even offered to send the hotel shuttle to pick me up when I was ready to check in to my original room.

She worked hard to make sure I knew she was serious about making things right. When I arrived at the front desk for round 2, the clerk was prepared for me. She called me by name and set about making me feel comfortable. I ended up with an upgraded room, free internet access, a fruit and cheese tray, and lots of apologetic smiles. I hadn’t asked for any of it, but I appreciated the effort to make up for the hotel’s mistake and considered the bad situation rectified.

Until the bill came on the day I was set to check out.

The room that was supposed to have been comped was now charged to my credit card. That wasn’t what the manager had promised, so I sent an email to follow up with her once I was back in the office. She politely but firmly told me that I was mistaken, that she had never agreed to comp my room.

I know I wasn’t mistaken. I never asked for a free room, but she offered it. I even repeated it back to her when she originally called me to make amends. In fact, she had even made a point to tell me that I would get my HHonors points, even though I didn’t have to pay. I didn’t make this up.

Throughout the trip, I had planned to blog about the situation as an example of a bad experience turned good in a customer service win. Instead, by not making good on her promise AND telling me (her customer) that I was wrong, the manager unraveled all the good work she had done.

The sad thing is, I doubt she has any idea.

Blackout

Any of you with a professional football team in your hometown likely noticed that the NFL recently made a change to its broadcast rules. For the past 39 years, the NFL had required local broadcast affiliates to black out home games when they were not 100% sold out 72 hours before kickoff. The league used this policy to “encourage” fans to see game in person rather than resorting to watching in the comfort of their own living rooms.

Whether the NFL finally found a heart or it realized that it risked losing fans (i.e. revenue) in these uncertain economic times, the league relaxed the 100% requirement to 85%. A smart move, in my opinion, for a variety of reasons that you can feel free to discuss with me offline if you’re so inclined.

Unfortunately, even as local fans started jumping for joy, several teams announced that they would stick to the old rule–100% sell-out, or no TV broadcast. Fans of the San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, and my beloved Indianapolis Colts immediately transformed their joy jumping into hopping mad. Even though I plan to watch every home game from my season ticket seat, I’m mad, too.

Besides getting my dander up at this strongarm tactic to sell season tickets (the Colts are about 2000 season tickets short of sold out, and owner Jim Irsay notes this in his letter to fans explaining why he’s sticking to the 100% rule), this policy is just bad business practice. Teams [you can substitute businesses here–it applies equally] should be making people fall in love with them. To do that, they have to be accessible to their fan [customer] base. The more chances those fans have to see and interact with the players and teams, the harder it is to ignore them. If people never have a chance to see a game, whether in person or on TV, how can anyone expect them to become fans?

Give fans a chance to get to know the players. Show them personalities, playing style, rockin’ touchdown dances. Give them opportunities to rally behind the team. Build a community that brings people in, not one that keeps people out.

I have a million other arguments on this subject, but none is as vehement as this one. It’s the people who love you who buy jerseys, posters, stickers, license plates, and yes, tickets. You can’t fall in love with someone you’ve never met.

P.S. You can read Irsay’s letter by clicking the image above.