Monday, December 15, 2014

Beware the Lies, Damned Lies and Stats!

Facts, figures and statistics – we’re bombarded with them. We just came though another election and most of us were inundated with political ads. It’s amazing how two candidates can talk about the same facts in such different ways. Democrats touted lower unemployment and a rising stock market. Republicans debated the legitimacy of both claims when it came to helping people and the economy. Had the tables been turned and Republicans been in power they’d have bragged about the declining unemployment rate and all time highs in the stock market. And it's very likely the Democrats would have debated those same facts.

Another example; sometimes we hear that average household income is up. On the surface that’s good. However, if you dig a little deeper and realize the increase only went to a very few people at the top and that most people’s income was stagnant or lower, would it still be such a good thing? Not if you’re in the mass of people who are not benefitting.

As noted earlier, the stock market is at an all-time high. Again, a good thing on the surface but if the growth in revenue and profits isn’t leading to job creation then are we (or at least the majority) really better off?

I’ll never forget seeing the debate over a potential increase in the state tax for Illinois. One group said it was a 66% increase and another group said it was a 2% increase. And both were right. The state tax was 3% and the proposed increase to 5% was raising it two percentage points but people would pay 66% more in state income tax compared to what they’d pay without the increase.

I hope you can see statistics can be used to portray whatever someone wants you to believe. I won’t say it’s unethical because in each instance facts are being shared but the vantage point can make all the difference. Two homes could look out over the same land but can have very different views depending on where each home sits. And so it is with stats.

Mark Twain once said there were lies, damned lies and statistics. His point was simply this; sometimes facts and figures can be used to justify the position of the person communicating. As noted earlier, all you need to do is listen to politicians from opposite sides of the aisle to realize this. They may talk about the very same issue and you’d think they were from different planets. You’ll get some very diverse viewpoints if you scan CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

What does this mean for you? Simple; don’t take everyone or everything at face value. Ask questions, dig a little deeper into the claims being made, occasionally play devil’s advocate. In doing so you’ll give yourself a fuller picture and better opportunity to make the best decision possible.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Better America for Ferguson and All Americans

By now everyone in the nation and most people around the world have heard about Ferguson, Mo. The death of Michael Brown and the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson touched off protests that quickly turned into violent riots. Whether or not officer Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown, one thing is certain, the events of that day and the grand jury decision blew the lid off of racial tensions that have been simmering for decades.

Unfortunately for those who want to see real societal change when it comes to race, their efforts have only been set back by the riots, violence and looting that have occurred in the aftermath in Ferguson. It's unfortunate because those who committed the acts, predominantly teens and young adults, probably don't care about change as much as they did an opportunity to cause mayhem and steal.

When significant change took place regarding race in this country a few notable things occurred. First, in the 1960s, Americans were horrified at the treatment of blacks in the South as they watched the news and saw non-violent protestors attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses. The key was the protests were non-violent and the people didn't deserve that kind of treatment and it repulsed most Americans.

A second, and more powerful change agent was the leader of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King had a vision and a strategy that moved people to action that couldn't be ignored. And like Mahatma Gandhi, he knew non-violence was the key.

Those two things are needed today for real change to take place. African Americans need the entire country to see the mistreatment that routinely takes place and to understand how their opportunities are much more limited than most Americans because of racial bias.

Most importantly they need a leader who can rally them as Dr. King did. Without a respected leader their movement will fail. Despite using social media to rally people, the March on Wall Street and We are the 99% movements ultimately failed because of lack of leadership. Couple that with the reality that news cycles are so much faster and people quickly forget the latest “big” story. Think about it for a moment; when was the last time you heard about the March on Wall Street or the We are the 99% movements? I can’t think of the last time either was in the news. More importantly, did any substantive change take place? No.

My personal opinion is current leaders such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson can’t fill the leadership role because of their contentious pasts and current public perception. Even President Barack Obama will be too polarizing to lead this cause when he leaves the White House, in my opinion.

Someone who I believe could fill that role is former General Colin Powell. He has the admiration of all Americans because of his long service to our country and his conduct as an individual. He knows how to lead, strategize, compromise, and deal with the media. He commands the kind of respect that makes people in this nation and around the world listen.

And let's not fool ourselves into thinking the violence is only a black issue. A brief scan of history will show other groups have been involved in violent protests. For example, in New York City, the Irish (my ancestors) rioted during the Civil War when the draft was instituted. They didn't want to go to war to free the slaves and felt the influx of blacks moving to the North would hurt their employment opportunities. One hundred people died during the New York riots. Another example comes by way of sports where we see people of all color celebrating then rioting in the streets after their teams win National Championships, World Series and Super Bowls.

But Ferguson was different because the violence we witnessed not only hurt the cause in Ferguson, it hurt the community and ultimately its citizens. Looting, damaging and destroying local businesses will put many in the community out of business for good and some jobs will be permanently lost. In an area with high unemployment they simply can’t afford that.

So what are some influence tips to bring about change? Here are a few quick thoughts.

Rather than focus on differences, African Americans could focus on what they have in common with the rest of the nation, which is an application of the principle of liking. They need to talk about how they are mothers and fathers like many of you reading this. They’re also sons and daughters. They must remind America they want the same thing we all do – a chance at the American Dream. This should be the norm, not the exception in their communities.

Look for ways to give instead of just asking for change. By giving you engage reciprocity and people will be more inclined to give when you ask. Perform acts of kindness, volunteer in the community and encourage people to go out of their way to help others, especially those who are difference. Kindness is hard to ignore.

A strong leader like Colin Powell would engage the principle of authority because he possesses both expertise and trustworthiness when it comes to leading. Neither Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson has the trust of enough Americans to qualify to lead at this time.

The cause has to be bigger that just African Americans. According to U.S. Census statistics, African Americans make up slightly less than 13% of the population. Hispanics and Latinos are more than 16%. Together 30% of the population can’t be ignored. By focusing on change for all minorities and reaching out to sympathetic whites they can engage consensus. The more the average American sees the groundswell of support, similar to what's happened with gay marriage, the more will get onboard.

Consistency is engaged by reminding all of us about the truths we hold to be self-evident in The Declaration of Independence; that all people are created equal and deserve equal opportunities. By pointing out where the system fails in this regard, it reminds us of our duty as Americans to make this a reality for all people.

The last principle to engage is scarcity. What does this country stand to lose by not affording more opportunities and fair treatment for all? We’re a nation of immigrants. Without people of all races, both genders and each nationality, we would not be the great country we are. If we limit those opportunities we limit ourselves.

Let me conclude with this. A big part of my desire to use this forum for this message comes from the fact that my best friend for nearly 40 years is African America. Russell Barrow was my best man when I got married and again when I renewed my wedding vows. You would be hard pressed to meet a nicer, more caring, giving individual than Russell. My daughter Abigail has always called him “Uncle Russell.” I’ve heard his stories of dealing with racism and seen some firsthand. In addition to Russell, I've had the opportunity to befriend many other African Americans through work. They’re wonderful people! For them, their families and future generations I want to see a better America and that won't come about without change.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Free is Great Except When We Don’t Want What’s Being Offered

Normally people go nuts for free stuff. It seems like ads touting “Buy one get one free,” or “25% more for free” cause shoppers to almost salivate. I bet you’ve been places where things were being given away for free and you found yourself taking items (pens, card holders, travel mugs, post it notes, etc.) that ended up in the trashcan within weeks of getting home. And still, we take the goods because they’re free. After all, you can’t loose by taking advantage of free…or can you?

Have you ever ordered something on Amazon for less than $25 then found yourself ordering another book or item just to bump you over the threshold in order to take advantage of the free shipping? I bet you have and you probably ended up spending $33-$38 in total. Sure, you convinced yourself you needed that extra book or CD but in reality you would not have purchased it were it not for the enticement of the free shipping.

Dan Ariely highlights our obsession with “free” things in his book Predictably Irrational in a chapter he calls “The Cost of Zero Cost: Why We Often Pay Too Much When We Pay Nothing.” He convincingly shows readers sometimes they end up worse off because of free.

The obsession with free has its limits and this came to light recently with Apple’s promotion with the Irish rock band U2. It seemed innocent enough, and generous of Apple and U2, to have the band’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, automatically added to the iTunes library of some 500 million people. Unfortunately for both, many subscribers didn’t appreciate the free album and voiced their opinion rather loudly on social media. In fact, there was an article titled Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster. Ouch!

I think what was missed by Apple and U2 in their well-intentioned giveaway was this – free isn’t really free if it’s not freely chosen. While there may have been no purchase cost for the album, people lost their freedom to choose whether or not they wanted to add it to their libraries. In other words, forced isn’t free no matter how good the intention.

What should they have done instead? In my opinion offering the album for free for a limited time would have enticed many people to take advantage of the giveaway. Think about it; U2 is an iconic band that’s done a lot of good for people across the globe through charitable work that could only have come about because of their fans. They could have positioned the opportunity for the free album as their way of saying thanks. I’m sure each band member is probably set for life financially so they don’t need the money and could have really made a splash.

By putting a timeframe on it they would have engaged the principle scarcity, which would have caused many people to want the album even more and act quickly. This is important because when things are free and abundant we usually don’t value them nearly as much as when they are restricted in some way. Think about air and water. Without air we die within minutes and without water we won’t survive for very long either. There may not be two things more necessary for life and yet they are an afterthought for most people…until they’re in short supply. When that happens we’d pay more for either than just about anything else in the world because our lives might be at stake.

I don’t think Apple or U2 deserved the intense backlash they got but let it be a lesson to all of us – no matter how beloved we, our company, our products/services, may be, never infringe on people’s freedom to choose. Understanding that and correctly positioning a gift could make all the difference in how it’s received and how we’re perceived.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Customer Service Done Wrong, Then Right

As amazing as it is to me and to my wife, Jane, our little girl Abigail started college this year. In preparation for the big event we did what many parents do – we took her out to buy a new laptop. Despite my love for Apple products Abigail didn’t want a MacBook so we headed to Best Buy in search of the right machine for her.

With the help of a friend of Abigail’s who worked at Best Buy, we found the right laptop and the whole buying experience was a good one. Unfortunately things changed just over a month later.

One night I asked Abigail how her laptop was working she said it was slow and ads kept popping up. I ran the antivirus software and it seemed to do the job except after rebooting, the laptop froze. Despite all of my attempts and research online I could not get the laptop working again so we decided to head back to Best Buy the next day to see if they could help.

The same young man who sold us the machine was working so I explained the issue. He tried several times to reboot the laptop but to no avail. He said we probably needed a new laptop but he’d have to talk to his manager first.

He came back and said because we were out for the 30-day warranty period (it was 42 days) the manager was willing to give us a new laptop if we would buy the one-year Geek Squad protection package. I had declined that option when we bought the original laptop because generally warranties like that never get used and are extremely overpriced.

The offered bothered me for several reasons. First, it was the most expensive laptop in the store so 30-day warranty or not, it shouldn’t stop working after just 40 days. Second, and more importantly, was the fact that I’ve shopped at that particular Best Buy for more than a dozen years buying televisions, PCs, laptops and other electronic items. With that in mind here was my reply:

“So what you’re telling me is I have to pay $200 for the new laptop. Tell your manager I’m willing to do it but here’s the deal; I’ll never shop here again. Let him know I’ve bought several televisions, PCs, laptops and other things over the years but I will never buy another thing from Best Buy again. So if that's acceptable then we have a deal.”

In case you didn’t realize it, I was using the principle of scarcity by letting them know what they stood to lose if they didn’t remove the $200 Geek Squad stipulation. I wanted them to think about the lifetime value of a customer like me.

Soon after I met the manager and he said he’d looked at my purchase history and saw I’d bought televisions, PCs and much more at the store. He said I was a platinum customer and they usually extend warranties to 45 days for customers like me. It was BS.

I don’t blame the salesperson because they have rules that define what they can and cannot do in certain situations. I do think stores should empower front line salespeople for just such situations and provide training so they’re confident those employees are making good decisions for the customer and store.

In this case I think the manager did a poor job because he ended up giving me some better antivirus software, which was a $50 value. Think about this for a moment; in then end the store paid me $50 to get the new laptop and I still wasn’t happy. If they’d have handled the situation differently they could have made it a very pleasant experience and had me singing their praises. Here’s what they should have done:

First, review my purchase history. Once they saw my history they should have assumed I would probably continue buying more items because my disposable income is increasing as I get older.

Next, the manager should have said, “Mr. Ahearn, I see you’ve shopped with us for more than a dozen years and purchased several televisions, PCs and other electronic items. Normally we’re pretty firm about the 30-day warranty but because of your loyalty we’re happy to make an exception for you in this case.”

Last, to seal the deal he could have delighted me in an unexpected way. “Mr. Ahearn, I’d like to do something extra for you so there’s no chance of you experiencing this issue again. I’m going to give you a year of antivirus protection, a $50 value, for free. How does that sound?”

Had he done what I suggested, he’d have used several principles of influence and made me happy about the whole experience. Doing something for me that’s not normally done for every customer – extending the warranty to 45 days – would have been an application of scarcity which would have made me value the deal even more. Throwing in the antivirus software would have engaged reciprocity, making me want to shop there more. Reciprocity would have been strengthened because giving me the antivirus software was meaningful ($50 value), customized (specific to the issue we ran into) and unexpected (we’d have been happy with just getting a new laptop).

If you’re in sales here are a few takeaways. 
  • Research your customer’s buying history before making any offers.
  • Consider the lifetime value of a customer.
  • When you’re making an exception, let the customer know it so they feel like they’re getting special treatment.
  • If you want to sweeten the deal, do so in a way that highlights why your extra step is good for the customer.
  • Lastly, consider the most effective ways to use the principles of influence when interacting with customers.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll delight customers rather than make them feel they have to battle with you in order to get you to do the right thing.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.