Seinfeld on Marketing: Retooling

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It’s time for the Happy Friday Dance! (Step to the left, take a step back, now jump and click your heels….) Now that you have had your exercise, lets join Kramer and Newman as they try to run their own talk show out of Kramer’s apartment (my favorite episode if you are playing along at home). Kramer is the host and Newman is the sidekick:

NEWMAN: Lately, though, I’ve been, uh, – I’ve been buying the generic brand of waxed beans. You know, I rip off the label and I can hardly tell the difference.

KRAMER: Well, we’ve officially bottomed out. Who’s our next guest?

NEWMAN: We’ve got no one!

KRAMER: We need a new format. We should shut down and re-tool. [Kramer pulls the plug and the “set” goes dark.]

Sometimes talk shows, ideas and brands go stale like Aunt Mae’s potato salad after a hot August picnic (hard for me to fully grasp this mental image as I sit here in Utah and the mercury is now only rising to “tolerable.”) Staleness can occur from over use and a loss or “specialness” or simply from neglect. Whatever the reason, at times it’s best to stop what you are doing and re-tool.

Take Starbucks for example. By now you have probably read about (or experience firsthand) the early store closing a few days ago of all 7,100 U.S. Starbucks locations to take time to retrain their baristas. In setting up the event, Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, said:

We will close all of our U.S. company-operated stores to teach, educate and share our love of coffee, and the art of espresso. And in doing so, we will begin to elevate the Starbucks Experience for our customers. We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.

I think this was a brave (and needed) move. Sure, Howard could have simply sent a memo on a TPS Report Cover Sheet for all to read and sign off. But stopping what you are doing long enough to pause and re-tool is so much more powerful. As you know, this stoppage was not only for the employees (or partners as Starbucks calls them) to get in some training; it was equally (and maybe more so) for customers to take notice that there was a stoppage on the assembly line. Howard wants you to take notice that he also noticed the drop in quality and has pulled the chain to stop the advancing assembly line.

But ultimately, will it make a difference? Only time will tell. But here are some of the things we learned from Uncle Howard about shutting down and re-tooling:

  1. If the public has noticed the “watering down” of the customer experience, the process for change should be open to the public to experience as well.
  2. A loss in revenue during the time you shut down and re-tool can be made up by well planned and executed PR covering the change.
  3. Just like a lateral in football, sometimes you momentarily have to go backward to keep moving forwards.

Is time for you to shutdown and retool?

Happy Friday ya’ll!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

Treating employees right

Cynthia Lopez felt it was time once again to enter the workforce after staying home to raise her three children. She landed a job at local gas station. After only three weeks on the job, she was robbed at gunpoint. The robber took all that was left in the cash register – $66.

Once the robber left, she had the presence of mind to note the robbers clothing and the stolen get-away car’s license plate number. Police soon caught up with the convicted felon and he was arrested.

How did the local gas station ever repay Cynthia for her bravery? They fired her. It turns out that Cynthia had $16 more in the cash register than the zero-tolerance, strict company policy of $50.

It sounds like another case of policy over principles.

To read the entire story, click here.

Do you have a “Chief Apology Officer”?

Let’s face it. If you’re in business, there’s going to be at least some problems. That’s business. So what do you do when things go wrong?

Southwest Airlines has what has been dubbed as a “Chief Apology Officer”. In reality he is Fred Taylor, Senior Manager of Proactive Customer Service Communications. (Listen to a podcast interview with Fred here). In his job, he “deals with customers on days when travel plans go awry.”

When I first heard of the Chief Apology Officer I was worried. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the concept but I was worried that since this position would be dealing with “the problems” day in and day out that it may turn into a what-button-can-I-push-to-make-this-customer-go-away sort of attitude followed by a mechanical and hollow apology. However, Southwest Airlines seems to get it right. They respond quickly, they correct the situation and they make sure that the entire organization has the needed information and what is expected of them.

What are your thoughts of having a Chief Apology Officer? How might you offer apologies as part of your job without sounding mechanical or insincere?

Bonus: If you feel that having your own Chief Apology Officer would be beneficial (or if that responsibility rests on your shoulders) be sure to checkout the 10 steps for crisis communication.

Happy Wednesday!

When a crisis happens

Menu Foods, a Canadian pet food manufacturer, distributes dog and cat food sold under Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger and other store brands. Last Friday it recalled 60 million containers of wet pet food Friday after reports of kidney failure and deaths.

In an attempt to calm fears and answer frantic questions, Menu Foods has set up a website and toll-free number for consumers to get answers to their questions. However, the website has minimal information and according to some pet owners, conflicting information. As for the toll-free line, it is constantly busy. From a marketing and public relations point of view, Menu Foods is leaving many pet owners in the dark.

Leaving your customers in the dark will only lead to fear and misinformation. When the lights come back on, you may only be left with a “trust account” that is overdrawn.

In case you find your company in a crisis, this may is a good time to go over the 10 steps in crisis communications:

  1. Be prepared – Have a crisis plan before the crisis. Identify possible courses of action, a spokesperson and communication avenues.
  2. Act fast – Gather information quickly and spread it to as many consumers as possible.
  3. Be proactive and not reactive – Deliver the bad news yourself. Don’t let others be the first to discover the bad news. Take responsibility and start the communications process.
  4. Make yourself available to consumers – Now is not the time to hide. Have as many communication avenues available to consumers as possible. Keep these avenues well maintained and give as much information as possible.
  5. What’s next – Tell the public the next steps that will be taken during the crisis.
  6. Tell the truth – Covering the truth will only severely compound the problem.
  7. Show compassion to those involved – In order of effectiveness, this is best done in person, by telephone, and lastly by written word (web site, press release, etc.).
  8. Put people ahead of profits – This is not a time to think of profits.
  9. Follow-up – After the crisis, tell the public how you will prevent the crisis from happening again in the future.
  10. Turn crises into opportunities – Seek out any silver linings.