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TMI – The Chicken Or The Egg?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

When someone asks, “How did this start – everybody’s private business being so public?” a lot of fingers get pointed.  People interested in civil liberties will claim that corporate lobbyists pushed through laws, allowing more access to individuals’ information.

On the other hand, one only needs to watch an evening of the poorly named “reality” shows to see that there must be some truth to Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that “people aren’t interested in privacy anymore.”  It seems that nearly anyone will debase themselves publicly for a price and 15 minutes of fame – or less.  Often, they don’t need a price . . .  just an audience will do.

Just as the constant use of a brand as an everyday term will water down its meaning, rendering it useless, so too is privacy diluted in meaning if  we pull out all the stops and leave nothing to the imagination or have no barriers whatsoever on which information is to be considered “off limits” to the general population.

This isn’t just a social media issue, but ventures out into many areas of customer service that concerns constituents in a variety of venues regarding data collection and its relevance to the actual transactions:

•     Vance* objects to gas pumps that require him to enter his zip code first at the pump.  “They claim it’s for ‘security purposes,’ but when I go inside to pay instead, they take my credit card without requiring my zip code . . . or ID, so how secure is that?”  Vance says he makes a point not to frequent gas stations with this requirement.

•     Wynona* concurs, and says that when various cashiers ask for her zip code prior to ringing up her purchases, she always replies with, I don’t want to participate. “Sometimes, though,” Wynona says, “The cashier will be so surprised at my response that they don’t know how to proceed.  They’ll explain it to me, as though I don’t understand, or something, and when I re-explain to them that I’m not going to, they get a deer in the headlights look before figuring out how to enter a fictional zip code that allows them to proceed ringing up my purchase.  It’s sad, really.”  Wynona doesn’t usually shop at such places on a repeat basis either.

•     Albert* makes a point not to sign his credit cards.  He feels that it is offering up his signature to a potential thief to easily forge, and knows that if his card is stolen, he would only be liable for the first $50.  “Most merchants don’t bother looking, anyway, except during the holidays, and then they ask for a photo ID to verify that I’m me,” he says.  He considers these “security measures” to be a joke.

•     Bertha* recently learned of how much geotracking smartphones are doing of their customers, and wondered if there isn’t even more happening than is being disclosed.  While she was on vacation recently, she visited relatives who watched a great deal of satellite television – programs she typically doesn’t view.  Bertha spent the time in the same room (with her smart phone) either visiting with relatives, catching up on work, or playing her favorite game on her phone.  By the end of the week, she noticed a stark difference in the ads that came up during her handheld’s game.  It was promoting television shows on the network her relatives had been watching that week.  She had never seen these ads promoted during this game before.  “I don’t mean to sound paranoid or delusional,” Bertha said, “But honestly – I wouldn’t put it past Apple or Google!”

•     Cecil* recently moved to the area and was setting up an appointment with a new doctor.  As they took down his insurance information, name, address, etc., the receptionist also asked him for his social security number.  He balked at this and asked why it was necessary, only to be told, “for identification purposes.”  When he persisted in knowing the reason that the doctor’s office needed this information, the receptionist narrowed the field and said that “the last four digits” would suffice, actually.  Once again, Cecil insisted that his social security number was not related or needed to him being a new patient, and required an explanation.  The receptionist didn’t even respond to his question, and instead simply moved on to the next question on the form.

•     Diane* has met with similar superfluous questions when it comes to medical personnel, and she feels that it is often targeted toward women more than men.  “Very nearly always, I am asked about my marital status on medical questionnaires, and I always refuse to answer.  It’s archaic and irrelevant to my medical health,” she says.  They don’t ask for ethnicity or religion, so why marital status?  That’s not the same as emergency contact.  I’ve even had someone argue and try to insist that I answer this question.  Needless to say, I didn’t return there.”

Each of these individuals were all keenly aware of the fact that their data was being solicited, tracked and harvested by various vendors, and they objected – but it’s the exception, not the rule.  Most people are unaware of their default settings and to what extent their data is revealed to others.

More commonly, tracking is being embedded – almost seamlessly and invisibly – into something disguised as philanthropic, so that people give permission for their data to be harvested without even realizing it.  Vendors are now trying to slap the word charity on their marketing and having the general public peddle their wares to their friends via social media.  If it starts with a nonprofit promoting it, all the better, companies figure.

Take care what causes – and channels – you support, lest a scandal come back later to bite you.  Even if the public didn’t realize what a campaign was on its face, they will care a great deal about what was behind the mask when all is revealed.

More people DO care about their privacy being guarded than the Zuckerbergs of the world would lead us to believe, and trust lost isn’t easily won back.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Is Social Media Consuming You – Or Vice Versa?

What’s the Payback on Social Media?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

While I was speaking at and attending the Emerging Philanthropy Conference last month, people kept coming back to the same question, regardless of the session or roundtable topic listed: “How do I sell my boss on the value of Social Media?

It became clear as the two days progressed that this weighed heavily on many people’s minds.  Although most nonprofit leaders are at least conceding the point that social media isn’t going away anytime soon, many of them still aren’t moving beyond basic lip service.  That is to say, too many don’t realize that experienced staff and a (gasp!) budget need to be committed to this endeavor as well.

(Mostly!) gone is the illusion of, “Give it to the intern – s/he needs something to do, anyway . . .” and then crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.  Enough studies now exist to show that nonprofits which take social media seriously really do get results from their audiences.

I’ve often found, though, that elaborating with details (even when I have plenty of them!) doesn’t really help me make my case . . . it only causes people’s eyes to glaze over.  Just as it’s essential to tell a potential donor a story that she can relate to when trying to solicit a gift, the staff member must tell the director a story that he can easily relate to when it comes to equating a new fundraising or marketing campaign to one he is already familiar with.

Comparing what is unknown to what is already known is always a good place to begin.

Most directors not only find social media to be new and confusing, but will often point to the fact that they don’t see the staff time or expense invested yielding any income for the organization, so why should they begin – or continue – to invest any of these resources in such an endeavor?

This can be answered by relating to several areas that nonprofits frequently already invest in, which take a lengthy time to produce income – indeed, some never do.  For example:

•     Acquisition mailings:  It’s a commonly accepted industry standard that this segment will need to be mailed to four times before breaking even, after which only then will nonprofits expect to start making money on this investment.  Why do they do it then?  Because they realize that it takes time, money and repetitive, consistent messaging in order to get people in the habit of donating to the organization when it is a new behavior that they are being asked to participate in.  Investing in bringing new constituents on board is something that smart nonprofits do all the time.  They are used to doing this via mail, and many of them also acquire email lists, too, so moving into the social media realm is just an additional channel.

•     Special events:  A great many nonprofits have annual, signature events that take many staff members nearly all year to plan and implement.  Some have more than one.  Although the hope is to raise a great deal of funds, quite a few others consider themselves  lucky if they turn a profit at all, and some even operate in the red, because it’s obvious that there are other benefits to such events, such as cultivation, publicity, networking, etc.  The amount of staff time and expense invested to execute an annual event can’t even begin to compare to how much staff time is required to create and maintain your social media channels, and yet most directors won’t think twice about budgeting for events as a “regular cost of doing business.”

•     Major Gifts:  For organizations that have dedicated staff or departments pursuing major giving, the directors realize that cultivation efforts of major donors can take many, many months, and the gifts may not come even in the same year – but that it all takes an investment of time before paying off.  The expenses involved often include a great deal of travel, meals, entertainment, etc., and many variables can affect the outcome of when and whether the gifts will be realized; again, however, this is seen as an investment that is worth pursuing.

Social media is no different than any of these above examples.  Typically, the greater the investment, the greater the return, but the principles are the same:

•     Constituents are being asked to participate (often in a new way), and repetition of the messaging is required before they become used to it and respond
•     Boosting income is only one of several goals, such as publicity and networking
•     Over time, the cultivation efforts will pay off, but not immediately

Another effective analogy that has been used to measure the importance of social media can be seen with recent and upcoming elections.  There was a greater correlation found between elected gubernatorial candidates who had larger social media followings in the 2010 elections, for example.  It’s already clear with upcoming presidential politics that social media will play a crucial role.  If it weren’t important, the campaigns wouldn’t invest so much time and money in it – particularly this early.

There are certainly directors who will want figures to back up these arguments, and I have often been accused of being a number-crunching geek who tracks my campaigns’ data, ad nauseum!  I do love analytics, and will create tables, charts and graphs to demonstrate this, that and the other whenever I can.

I’m simply pointing out that in the above examples of mailings, events and major gift cultivation, I’d be willing to wager that most nonprofits can’t produce a great deal of analytics to show detailed ROIs, expenses, splits on LYBUNTS, SYBUNTS, lapsed, etc. either, so why is management holding social media to a higher standard and a shorter timetable to produce results?  Especially when “results” are being defined on an entirely new landscape that’s changing at a much greater speed than the others?  This is very unrealistic.  There are many directors who’ll disregard data in favor of their gut reactions or anecdotes instead.

Obviously analysis can be done to measure results, and several social media experts offer good advice on how to do it; however, many nonprofits don’t invest enough in their staff to have someone who delves deep into the data for any aspect of development.  Often, gross income, net income, average gift and perhaps percentage of donors retained is the extent of the analysis conducted for each campaign.

The alternative of abandoning social media – or doing it half way – is a poor choice, simply because it appears not to measure up to unfair standards that no other campaign strategy is being held to.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

Is Social Media Consuming You – Or Vice Versa?

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

 

*For embedded links, see SlideShare chart.

Even laggards are now admitting that social media is here to stay, but how people engage social media varies greatly.  I notice that they seem to fall into one of four categories once they decide to link, tweet, post, blog or otherwise chat online.

With social media, a combination of IT skills and social skills is most beneficial; therefore, it stands to reason that those people lacking both would be the last to come on board and people who have talent in each area would be the early adopters.  The key, though, is not to take it to an extreme in whichever area you happen to belong.  The people who do are often the ones portrayed as representative of social media and its uses, unfortunately.

Pony Express-ives

Social media users latest to the game are those most reticent about using these tools.  They felt it was a passing fad and a waste of time – essentially a video game that didn’t belong in the workplace, so why bother learning such a thing?

They have begrudgingly added this to their already overwhelming to-do list, and don’t care to admit that mastering email isn’t something they’ve quite gotten the hang of yet.

Wall Monitors

Although more adept with the technical side of things, Wall Monitors aren’t really social creatures and find the video game analogy of social media to be enticing.  They see the entire experience more as a need to outscore everyone else, where acquiring connections is a means to an end.  “Winning” to them is more about getting the highest number, title or prize, rather than meeting people.

TMIers

While Twitter often gets blamed for creating these creatures, they existed long before social media did.  They used the telephone, mail and face to face communication in bygone years – whatever was available – to tell anyone who would listen about anything and everything that was happening in their lives, ad nauseum.

Like “reality” television, if people didn’t give them an audience, they would learn sooner not to publicly broadcast their minutiae to the world.

Fan-Addicts

Those most adept at technology and socializing have been using social media the longest, but often find it difficult to step away from their monitors, handhelds, laptops – even for a short while.  As our society becomes more connected, we often find it impossible to become disconnected.  Pew Research shows that, overall, two-thirds of adults sleep with their cell phones.

As a society, even the most technologically engaged are beginning to address what protocols should be followed regarding acceptable behavior with regard to social media invading – and superceding – the world of face to face interaction.

So which category is best?  As usual, all things in moderation.  It’s certainly good to be skilled in a trade – especially one that’s in demand – but not if it’s taken to such an extreme that it controls you instead of the other way around.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

The Short End of the Stick

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I’ve never been an advocate of “selling widgets on the side,” to bolster a nonprofit’s income.  On the one hand, it detracts from the mission in a glaring way.  On the other, it steals valuable staff time from what we should be focusing on.

This is all too common, such as the Snowflake Animal Rescue website, which encourages not only online giving, but that you shop for Amazon and Food Lion via their site.  What do books, music and groceries have to do with animal rescue, though?

Even more conspicuous is the Ectodermal Dysplasia Society, where the ads for Amazon and buy.at are nearly more significant than the [Donate] button. Clicking the buy.at button then opens up into another entire world of retailers, waiting to take the constituents’ money and throw a small slice back at the charity.

A new study has come out, soon to be released in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, which shows that cause marketing actually leads to lower charitable donations.  This shouldn’t be surprising, actually.  First of all, when said actions or purchases are made, the consumer is led to believe that they have completed their philanthropic duty, which lessens further acts that they might have otherwise taken (of greater amounts).

In addition, many people donate to nonprofits out of a sense of giving to others, rather than receiving tangible goods in return.  The messaging changes from one of selflessness to more “selfish” giving, when there are always goods associated with donating.

I witnessed this phenomenon while tracking fundraising statistics at PBS years ago.  The average gift during phonathon hovered just below $100 – and then Suze Orman, financial whiz, came on the scene.  Stations everywhere were pitching her programs very successfully:  “And if you donate $___, you can get the Suze Orman DVD, or for $___, the CD, or for $___, the VHS …”

It was an undeniable correlation!  Almost in synch, as Suze Orman shows broadcast on PBS, the average gift skyrocketed above $100, systemwide.  Suze renewed with PBS for a few years . . . then she signed with QVC, to make real money.  When PBS stopped airing her specials, the average gift dropped below $100 once again.

It became all too clear that the mission of public broadcasting hadn’t been pitched nearly as much as Orman DVDs, CDs and tapes, and now that they were gone, it was a tougher sell, falling back on what hadn’t been spotlighted for some time.

Perhaps selling t-shirts, posters, mugs, hats, etc. with your mission, logo and so forth works well with your branding and interests your constituents, but if it doesn’t, why are you hawking and peddling someone else’s wares for a mere slice of the proceeds?

Even if it is part of your mission, however, take care that you continue incorporating that mission with every pitch.

I recall one state public broadcaster who presented a session at the PBS Development Conference, during the Suze Orman frenzy.  He explained that, although they could start their pitch at the higher (DVD) end, they always made a point to open pledge drives by asking people to join at the basic membership level, followed by, “. . . and if you can afford to support us at the $___ level, we’d like to send you this thank you gift of ____,” and so on, up the ask ladder.

He explained that, as a state licensee, it was important that, when they went to ask for state funding, they could demonstrate as wide a market penetration (support base) as possible throughout the state.  Therefore, it was more important that the station bring on more people as members first, regardless of their giving level.  Once people made the decision to donate, the station would work on cultivating them to contribute at increased levels over time.

The reverse is also possible, even if transactional sales are a significant part of your mission.  I achieved this years ago when managing my daughter’s troop’s Girl Scout cookie booth sales.

I taught the girls to assess the customer.  If s/he said, “No,” why did they think the customer didn’t want to purchase cookies?  Perhaps they scowled as they hurried past with their groceries.  In that case, move on to the next customer.

However, many people expressed “No” with regret, such as, “I’m diabetic,” or “My (grand)daughter is selling them, too,” or “I’ve already bought ___ boxes.”

In this case, we clearly had a supporter – of the mission – who simply didn’t want more boxes of cookies, and I instructed the girls to immediately follow these remarks with, “Would you like to make a donation to our troop?”  This frequently yielded a substantial amount of funds, which always more than offset the cost of the free samples we gave out to passersby.  In turn, of course, the girls giving out free samples generated more cookie sales.

Regardless of your mission and its various aspects, it always helps to assess when you take on a new project:  Who is this helping?  Is it mission related?  If it’s not obvious to the donor why you’re doing it and someone else is benefitting more than your organization, odds are, you’re getting the short end of the stick.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

How Is Your Customer Service?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

In the nonprofit world, year-end is the do-or-die time of year, when goals are achieved or re-evaluated.  Shortly after is when the donor often evaluates the nonprofit in other terms – customer service.  How do you tie down all the loose ends?

Whenever there are more transactions happening than are typical, it stands to reason that there will also be more mistakes.  Everyone makes them.  Even if your organization didn’t make a mistake, people have questions, get confused, or simply have special needs and circumstances that aren’t going to be addressed by the FAQ section on your website.  Right now, for example, many donors are trying to track down receipts to use while filing their taxes.

Your organization is deemed more worthy – or worthless – during these times of performance than during a regular day when all goes well, because this is when word of mouth is much more likely to spread about you.  What will people say about how you handled their situation and the impression you made upon them?

I recall impressions made upon me recently and over the holidays about customer service, good and bad – mostly bad.

_

Way off Target

My daughter was home from school, and we spent some time shopping, stopping first at Target and their pharmacy.  Although I had already called in a prescription refill that they have filled for years, I was told that they couldn’t fill it until I brought in the new card for this year.

As I arrived at the pharmacy, a clerk at the counter reeked of the attitude, “What do you want?” as she greeted me, and I explained the situation, giving her my 2011 insurance card.  She had no idea what to do, but took a good ten minutes before asking someone else to help.  It turned out to be a long, involved process of the pharmacist calling many involved parties to resolve the issue, and I got to witness the clerk treat customer after customer with her same, “Make it quick . . . you’re inconveniencing me! charm as I waited for final resolution . . . which was to give me the same prescription I’ve been getting for years.  All of this took half an hour.

Then, my daughter and I went to shop for clothes for her, which was the purpose of our outing.  Back at the dressing room, I waited out on the bench while she tried on clothes and the woman working the station occasionally folded, hung, etc. the inventory.  As she came out from behind the counter, I noticed that she wasn’t wearing her shoes!  She also made a point to continually move the clothes she was working with off of the counter and onto the bench I was sitting on.  Apparently, it was an easier reach for her.  It didn’t matter that I was sitting there.

My daughter didn’t find much at Target, so we decided to head over to Macy’s, where I anticipated a higher caliber of service, along with the merchandise.

_

Three Strikes – You’re Out

At Macy’s, my daughter was trying on clothes in a nearly uninhabited part of the store, where three salespeople were all standing around, chatting about some supervisor in a very negative fashion – clearly within earshot of me, who is waiting outside the dressing room.  The conversation goes on for a good ten minutes about how the supervisor is unrealistic and overly demanding because he does not give them the break time they obviously deserve.  They each recount tales of his “outrageous” behavior and their attempts to educate him on what should be appropriate treatment toward the employees.

After I listened to this for some time, my daughter calls to me with a verdict:  These clothes aren’t working, but those are, and could I get several more of them in a, b, c and d colors from that sales rack, along with some of them, too, please?  Sure, but it’ll take a while.  That sales rack was a bit messy and confusing, if I remember.

This particular sales rack was located right next to the cashier stand, and as I spent the next ten minutes searching through several dozen articles of clothing, trying to find four colors in just the right size, these three “sales associates” stood next to me, not waiting on a single customer, and continuing to rant to one another about how bad their manager is to treat them so poorly – and trade tactics on what each of their methods are to resist him!

I made a point to take my daughter’s selections to a different register when she was done.

_

Now I’m Walking

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Popeye’s Chicken drive through window and ordered several items for a meal to take home.  I was told that my spicy chicken wouldn’t be ready for another seven minutes – did I want to wait, or did I want regular?  I said I’d wait, and once I drove around to pay, I was asked to please park over there in the lot, where they would bring it out to me as soon as it was ready.

After waiting ten minutes – and seeing in my rear view window that the woman waiting on me had left the counter to take a restroom break – I left my car to go into Popeye’s and get my food, incensed.  By now, the woman had returned, and I witnessed her and two other employees behind the counter and one manager in front of the counter.  The two customers I saw seated and eating were the only ones in the restaurant.  They weren’t busy at all.

When the woman saw me enter, she began laughing at “getting caught,” and told the others to hurry, who started snickering as well and packed my food faster.  The manager asked if he could help me.  I was visibly angry and told him that what I needed was to have my food brought out when I was told!

As he handed me the bag, he called out to me, “See you next time . . .

Walking away, I replied, “No, I don’t think so!”

As I got into my car, a woman parked nearby called out to me in an irritated voice, “Were you waiting on spicy chicken, too?  You had to go in and get it?!”

_

When You’re Here, You’re Family

My daughter and I had gone out with others to Olive Garden for dinner while she was home.  I noticed that our server, Brendon, had his collar adorned with what must be every service medal they gave out to the wait staff.  We apparently had gotten the luck of the draw, and I was interested to see if he lived up to it.  I was pleased to discover that he more than did.

Not only did he get the special orders correct and provide prompt and friendly service, but he went out of his way to check on us without being intrusive.  At the end of the meal, I noticed additional things, down to when he packaged our leftovers to take home.  He did something very thoughtful I have never seen someone do before:  He wrote on each container what the meal was and today’s date!

I thought to myself, “Now that makes so much sense!  This is exactly what a customer needs to know when taking the box out of the refrigerator later: What is it? and quite possibly How old is it?”  Brendon had taken care of both of these later needs for us as well!  I made certain to tip him accordingly.

I have been back to Olive Garden since.  I haven’t returned to Target, Macy’s or to Popeye’s.  Which type of service does your organization provide, and what story are your constituents likely to tell about you after they ask for help with something?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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