Tuesday, June 27, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Learning from "A-O-Hell"

By now, you've probably heard about the HUGE public relations nightmare that's hitting America Online right now (for the gory details, check it out HERE.) My favorite part--when John the AOL rep asked the 30-year-old customer if he could speak to his father!

It's bad enough that after 20 minutes of screaming at the worst excuse for a customer service rep ever, Vincent Ferrari posted a recording of his conversation on his blog for the World Wide Web to read. It caught the attention of CNBC reporter Matt Lefkowitz, who wanted to see what AOL had to say when he tried cancelling his account.

It took him 45 minutes. After he was disconnected on his first attempt.

AOL's response after the CNBC story aired last week? Read for yourself:

"At AOL, we have zero-tolerance for customer care incidents like this - which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable. The employee in question violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care - chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests. This matter was dealt with immediately and appropriately, and the employee cited here is no longer with the Company.

"I've spoken directly to Mr. Ferrari and personally apologized to him for what took place. Many here have taken a strong interest in this episode - even going so far as to email all customer service representatives about it as an example of how we should never treat a member. We're going to learn from this - and continue to make the necessary, positive changes to our practices. This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internal and external compliance methods. We can do better - and we will."

Ummmm, thanks...but too late. The damage has been done. It's not that this is the first time someone has had trouble trying to drop their AOL account--in fact, there are several web sites devoted entirely to this frustrating endeavor! It's the fact that with today's technology, everyone can read and hear all about it and soon, the problem reaches legendary proportions.

As a leader, it's never too late to sit down with everyone in your organization to make sure they're overdelivering on customer service. Saving a couple bucks trying to keep a dissatisfied customer today might cost you and your company's reputation in the end.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Another Urban Legend

People love "urban legends"--stories passed along from person to person, usually by email, that sound like they're true but usually have little basis in fact. According to the web site, Snopes.com, "urban legends are narratives which put our fears and concerns into the form of stories or are tales which we use to confirm the rightness of our world view."

You may not know it, but there are "urban legends" everywhere, even in the business world. Let me give you one example: you're firing one of your employees and to soften the blow, you tell them, "It's not personal, it's just business."

Wrong. That's an urban legend of leadership.

The maxim should be "When it comes to business, it's all personal." As a leader, you're responsible to customers, employees, maybe stockholders...and believe me, they take what you do seriously. So when you tell them, "It's not personal," what you're really saying is that it's not personal to you.

But it should be.

The most successful leaders carry a passion for personal performance with them every day and instill a sense of accountability with everyone they encounter. Your business will grow every time you let someone you work with know "it's personal."

(If you'd like to hear more about my presentation, "The Urban Legends of Leadership," please check out my web site at MARKtalks.com.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Getting The "Coulter" Shoulder?

Maybe she knows what she's doing...but I can't help but think that conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter needs a little help with her media people skills.

Ms. Coulter got into a shouting match with NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer over her comments regarding a group of 9/11 widows who she claims have used a national tragedy for their personal gain. Political perspective aside, she made a couple of critical mistakes that will probably erode her credibility. (Notice I didn't say her popularity. In the world of political opinion, you want people to either love you or hate you...and the people who hate you will give you more attention than the people who love you. Which means bigger ratings and book sales.)

Rule #13 of Media Interview Techniques--don't get into a shouting match with the host. Having passion is great. Having lung power is not. The host controls the show and when you both get so worked up that tempers flare, guess who wins? And guess who invariably gets blasted after the interview's over? Not the interviewer. You only win when you are the cool and collected one.

Ann Coulter could've saved the interview by using a little charm or some self-deprecating humor, but she ended the segment by breaking Rule #7--never insult the host. After Matt Lauer closed the segment by saying, "Ann Coulter...always fun to have you here" she got one last shot in by saying, "Hey, Matt, where's Katie (Couric)? Did she leave or something?!?"

Childish. And self-serving. Ann Coulter's actions may sell books, but it doesn't help her credibility let alone give conservatives a fair shake in the public discourse. Lesson here--if you're in a confrontational interview with a member of the media, always take the high ground.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS--Pomp Without The Circumstance

It's graduation season--which means you can't swing a tassel without hitting a celebrity speaker who can't or doesn't seem to care about his audience. I just sat through an interminably looooooooooong, self-serving speech by a really big name with an even bigger reputation. This celebrity obviously didn't understand the central concept of a graduation speech--it gives the speaker the chance to send young minds out into the world with a greater sense of purpose, a more practical perspective on life's trials and triumphs, or a call to arms to make the world a better place for future graduates.

Most graduation speeches fail because most graduation speakers think that the speech is about them, so they use the occasion to stroke their own egos or promote their pet causes. No wonder they're boring. However, there's a great lesson here that every speaker should use when forming their presentations--something world-class trainer Patricia Fripp calls the "I-You Ratio."

It's simple--just use the word "YOU" much more often than you use the word "I". For example, instead of saying "I was fishing with my dad one day when I caught the biggest bass I'd ever seen." Turn the perspective around to include your listeners:
"Imagine you're fishing on a calm, quiet lake as the sun breaks over the tree tops...and all you can hear is the breathing of the most important man in your life. Suddenly, your father says, 'I think you got one!' You stumble around the boat, struggling to reel in your prize catch. It is the biggest smallmouth bass you've ever seen. But not nearly as big as the smile on your dad's face."
Not only does that opening have a great emotional connection, it puts your audience in the middle of your experience. It engages them in a positive mental adventure that sets you up for a successful presentation. Most important, the proper "I/You Ratio" puts the focus of any speech, not just graduations, where it should be--on your audience, not on you.