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The Missing Link


When Marketing Isn't Enough

I was fortunate to attend a two-day workshop recently with the Temkin Group called Driving Customer Experience Transformation. I participated as part of a small cohort of 15 organizations from a variety of sectors, mostly corporate, with professionals from across the U.S. and South America.

I had been in the meeting room just a few minutes when I asked Jeff from Terminex (yes, the pest control people!) what he was hoping to learn and why Terminex is interested in improving their customer experience strategies. He said, “We can no longer outsell our competition. We used to be able to hire the best, most driven sales team and provide them excellent training, and they could outsell our competitors. Now, we must provide better service and leave customers feeling positive about our products, service, and employees.” I’ve been thinking about his response and how it applies to arts and cultural organizations since I returned.

I think we spend much of our time in the arts and culture, and maybe other social sectors, trying to “out market” our competitors. I know nonprofits tend to bristle at the word “competitors,” but on any given day, we are competing for people’s time, money, and attention. We seem to have a philosophy that if we just post more often on social media, purchase a few more ads, or make our message a little more compelling, then we will have more ticket buyers, members, and donors.

The truth is this: All of our marketing efforts can be blown up in a second if we encounter a grumpy usher or an uninformed ticket seller, if we can’t easily find parking, or if we aren’t thanked for our gift. The list of experience faux pas could go on and on. We’ve all had them with other products and services we purchase.

While the corporate sector is trying to figure out how to get us to have a memorable experience with an inanimate object, arts and cultural organizations are in the experience business. It’s what we do best - produce, present, and curate experiences. Yet, from my perspective, we have a lot to learn when it comes to designing those experiences to keep people coming back and bringing their friends.

There are proven strategies for intentionally designing experiences that result in helping customers leave emotionally satisfied and excited to tell their friends. The customer’s perception of their interaction is key. You can’t make them feel a specific way.

Customer experience (CX) is defined as the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization. According to the Temken Group, there are three key pillars to this framework:

  • Success – The degree to which customers can accomplish their goals.
  • Effort – The difficulty or ease in accomplishing their goals.
  • Emotion – How the interaction makes the customer(s) feel.

For example, if my goal is to plan an evening out with my spouse, I need to be able to successfully find information about events we might attend. Then, I need your organization to make it easy for me to interface with you, whether it’s electronically or face-to-face. My customer experience will be based on several factors, not the least of which are: 1) Am I able to easily find and purchase tickets?; 2) Is the price right for my budget?; 3) Do I know where the event is located and will it be easy to park and find my way inside?; and 4) What should I know to prepare for the show?

Then, and most importantly, the fifth question: How will my spouse and I feel after the experience ends? Will we feel happy, satisfied, and closer to each other, or will we be angered by something that went wrong? (Remember the crabby usher.) Research proves that the ending of an experience is most critical to how we will remember it. In addition, it’s the most critical component for building brand loyalty. In fact, emotional factors influence future purchasing decisions six times more than relational factors. How we make people feel matters!

To quote Walt Disney, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

Questions for further consideration:

1. What are your customer’s ultimate goal(s) when they engage with your organization?

2. How can you make the process of purchasing a ticket, becoming a member, or making a contribution easier?

3. In what ways can you intentionally design a “happy or satisfying ending” for your guests?


Engaging Millennials

I’m creating content for a board development workshop series I’m co-presenting with a colleague. In my work with nonprofit boards, an often-asked question is, “How can we engage younger people on the Board, or as volunteers?” Since I’m not a Millennial, my research led me to a recent blog post by a Millennial named Kyle Gracey. I’ve adapted some of Kyle’s ideas and added some of my own.

Millennials are a generation that already demonstrates a strong interest in volunteering and public service. Nonprofit board work can be a great way for them to give back to the community. Board service can give young people direct experience in financial and personnel management and organizational strategy. And, it might serve as a valuable networking tool for both the younger and senior members of the Board. Millennials are tech-savvy, and tend to be extremely passionate about issues nonprofits work on. Some of these promising young people will be the next nonprofit leaders and recipients of nonprofit services.

Here are six ideas for deepening your organization’s engagement with Millennials:

Maximize Your Millennial-finding Channels – Ask your program staff, some of who are probably Millennials, to recommend people in their networks. Ask your own children. Consider joining LinkedIn Board Member Connect to find professionals who are interested in serving on a nonprofit board.
Make Your Meetings ‘Millennial Ready’ – If you’re still communicating by conference calls and paper documents, you’ll need a tech upgrade to attract and retain talented Millennials. Start using videoconferencing for your board and committee meetings. Consider giving all of your directors email addresses – an email with your organization’s name after the @ is a status symbol for Millennials trying to define their professional selves. And, if they’re doing work on behalf of the organization, your brand will be strengthened. You might event consider printing business cards for board members. Again, an inexpensive investment in your brand.
Don’t Treat Millennials as Tokens – They’re on your board to serve, not fill a quota. (This is a good tip, no matter whom you’re recruiting.) Like recruiting any director, you need to ask yourself what skills your Millennial candidates are bringing to the Board and which individual will serve you best. Remember, everyone is unique.
Bring Millennials On The Board In Pairs – If your board doesn’t have any Millennials now, and especially if your average trustee is aged 50 or above, have more than one young person on your board at once. They’ll feel more comfortable, and you’ll get a better sense of the range of skills they can offer for when the next recruitment cycle starts.
Don’t Underestimate Millennials’ Skills – Many young people have started their own nonprofits, worked in startups, or otherwise been exposed to skills a nonprofit trustee needs, at a much younger age than in past generations. Don’t be afraid to make them committee chairs, officers, or let them lead projects. Engaging Millennials (or any prospective board member for that matter) in a volunteer role before putting them on your Board allows you to observe their work and commitment in action.
Ask Millennials About the Ways They’d Like To Serve – Just because a young person is an IT professional by day, doesn’t mean they want to handle your organization’s IT needs as a volunteer. Most likely, they have a wealth of other skills and talents your organization can tap into.

You can adapt these ‘best practices’ for recruiting any new person to your Board, or as a volunteer. When it comes down to it, we all want to be engaged in personally meaningful ways for important causes. When we aren’t, we often don’t participate for long.

Are you currently using any of these strategies? Let me know what you try and how it works.


Are You Delighting Your Audiences?

As 2014 begins, I find myself thinking about customer service and audience engagement. I believe the two are interrelated, yet I don’t hear the words ‘customer service’ used very frequently in the nonprofit sector. In my view, outstanding customer service will lead to enthusiastically engaged ticket buyers, donors, board members, families, and ________ (fill in the blank).

When I travel with Southwest Airlines I always read Spirit Magazine. Southwest does an excellent job of telling engaging stories about their work. In the November 2013 issue, President and CEO, Gary Kelly, was quoted as saying, “We are in the customer service industry; we just happen to fly airplanes.” I wonder if those of us working in the arts and cultural sector would say the same, “we’re in the customer service business, we just happen to present and produce arts experiences.” How would this mindset improve our efforts to engage audiences in meaningful ways?

I recently read this definition of customer service from a customer, “Good customer service is how I perceive that an organization has delighted me, by exceeding my needs and expectations". As I’ve written before, engagement is NOT about us and our organizations – it’s about our audiences. In what ways are we delighting them, and exceeding their expectations once they buy a ticket or make a contribution? Do we even know what their expectations are?

Here are three ways I’ve found that have helped me to better understand the expectations of audiences:

  1. Ask Them. Yes, it’s that simple. I’ve found that people are willing to share their needs, desires and opinions. But, we have to be active, welcoming, non-judgmental listeners. We must want to hear what they tell us. And, yes, I understand that in the arts, another important customer is the artist. I know there are ways to balance delighting artists with ways of delighting ticket buyers or members.
  2. Watch Them. As people are entering the performance space or museum gallery, stand back and observe. In my experience, you can learn a lot about people by simply watching their behavior. In one observation experiment I conducted, I was able to tell what part of the hall people preferred to fill first, who wanted to sit near a railing to use as their drink holder, and who wanted to sit on an aisle or close to the door. Over time, as you come to know some of your regular attendees, you might find ways to ‘value up’ their experience.
  3. Thank Them. When the arts experience is over, stand by the door and thank people for coming. This will give them an opportunity to talk with you about their experience and expectations for the next time. Just smile, and you’ll be surprised what someone might offer to tell you.

What are some ways you learn about your audiences’ expectations so you can delight them again and again?


Thanks for the Memories

What does your oganization do to let satisfied customers/audiences tell you about their satisfaction? We know that a personally meaningful experience - in the theatre, at the mall, or even on an airplane - results in postitive memories long after the immediate experience has ended. And, if the experience is really great, sometimes the customer would like to tell you so. Does your organization have a way to collect and share such praise? If you're like most organziations and companies, probably not. Many have complaint departments, but not gratitude departments.

I just learned about American Airlies program called Applause. They give frequent travelers who've reached "elite" status a set of preprinted cards - think instant Hallmark moment - to be given to employees who offer exemplary service. http://www.aa.com/i18n/utility/applause.jsp

Who can i tell when I have a great experience at your performance or exhibition? We know that word of mouth is one of the best, and cheapest, marketing methods. Why not prompt people to give postive feedback in the moment, and capture their memory? This simple action might just bring them back for another meaningful experience.


What Laundry Detergent Can Teach Us About Winning Audiences

A couple of years ago the makers of Gain laundry detergent, Proctor & Gamble (P&G), were looking for a way to better engage and win customers. They used web and social media tools to launch a “Sniff Contest.”

They invited current and new Gain customers to purchase a bottle of detergent, open the cap, and sniff the scent. Then, customers were to visit the company’s website or Facebook page and write a brief story or upload a video about their experience with that bottle of detergent.

When I first heard about this request, I found it hard to believe that anyone would take the time to do this…for laundry detergent?

As it turns out, the campaign was wildly successful, resulting in over 300,000 stories, videos, and fans. P&G dubbed these people the “Gainiacs” and continues to engage them in a variety of ways to increase product sales.

Everybody loves to hear a good story. A powerful story is a critical tool for engaging and winning audiences – current and potential ticket buyers, class participants, board members, artists, and donors. 

I’ve attended many workshops where presenters tell nonprofits to develop clear, persuasive, and compelling stories about their work. However, few offer specific steps for doing so. My goal for this post is to provide a few tips to help you begin your journey of collecting and telling stories about your value.

Just like P &G, you can and must collect and create different stories for different listeners. One story will not resonate the same with everyone you want to communicate with. For example, parents will be motivated by different stories than senior citizens; and corporate donors may be motivated by different stories than individual donors.

Willie Pietersen, former CEO of Tropicana, says in his book, Strategic Learning, “Winning in business means winning in value. And, you can’t cure a value problem with cost reductions.”

For me, this quote describes the current state many nonprofit arts organizations face. We’re so busy looking for ways to cut costs and programming, that we’ve stopped working to define and communicate value. The overwhelming response to shrinking revenues is cost cutting.

While this strategy works for a while and keeps organizations in the black, what happens when there are no more funds to cut? What if we could get more proficient at communicating the value of what we do by collecting and creating stories about the personally meaningful engagement of ticket buyers, class participants, board members, artists and donors?

Here is a basic framework to get you started:

Compelling and persuasive stories must:

  • Be Specific, but Universal – Identify a challenge or person that is widely identifiable.
  • Name a Protagonist – Use a proper name when you can. Provide as many details about this person as possible.
  • Provide Context – Describe the circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, or challenge.
  • Identify a Challenge – What is the situation to be overcome? In what ways did your organization help?
  • Describe the Action – Describe what action took place. How did the protagonist interact with your organization in valuable ways?
  • Share the Results – What happened? How was the protagonist’s life changed by your organization? What do you want the listener to do?
  • Document – Use photos, video and comments to demonstrate value for the protagonist. Share widely in print and electronic communication materials.

I’m convinced that if over 300,000 people will share stories about laundry detergent, your audiences will gladly tell stories about their experience with your arts programming.

You just need to make it easy for them to tell you.