It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are

The following article was originally published in the December 2012 IGDA Perspectives newsletter on Leadership.  Enjoy!

“I am honest and hardworking” is a phrase pretty much everyone uses: job candidates, employees during reviews, leaders speaking to the press, criminals claiming innocence, etc. Statistically speaking, some of these people are lying. And some of these liars have no idea they’re doing it.

In an ideal world we would all be who we say we are. Better yet – we’d be self-aware enough to know who everyone else thinks we are. Then there’s this world. Here, our insight is cloudy at best. Intent matters less than perception and perception is the only reality.

That’s why when I give some of my talks, I not only explain corporate branding and imaging and how it affects good customer service, but personal branding as well. How you present yourself as an individual and how you handle yourself in various situations all affects how you are perceived. How you are perceived determines how you are treated.

You may think of yourself as the most kind-hearted, patient, and caring human being who has ever existed, but if your professional persona is seen selling out coworkers, yelling at subordinates, and sabotaging rivals, no one is going to associate you with Mother Teresa.

As a leader you have to be extremely careful about how you are perceived because it directly influences your effectiveness. It can be the difference between record growth and a “Going Out of Business” sale.

I can’t claim that I have got this down pat. I’m not immune to lapses. However, I am keenly aware of how I can come across to others.

I learned a long time ago that I picked up a lot of personality traits from my parents, friends, and early colleagues throughout the years. Some of these are great, while others … well, not so much. I’ve been working for the last decade or so to assess these traits, boosting the positive ones and removing or adjusting the negative ones.

The best part is that you can do this too. But first you need to get real about who you are and how others see you. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself – it can be hard to hear that inner you doesn’t match outer you.

I’ve developed an exercise to help with this self-assessment – “5 words or phrases.” It’s a three-step exercise that anyone can do and it’ll take you down the path to self-awareness, understanding how you are perceived, and empowering you to manage that perception. It works like this:


Step 1: Ask yourself who you are

Take out a pen and paper, grab your tablet, open up a text file on your computer, send yourself a text message, or print this out and fill it in the below – just get started. The method doesn’t matter, just that you get it down somewhere. I want you to write five words or phrases that YOU think describe you. This is not how you think others perceive you, but your own feelings about yourself. Focus on the you that exists in this very moment, not the person you were in the past or who you want to be in the future. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

The 5 Words or Phrases I would use to describe myself are:

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Got them? Good – next step!


Step 2: Seek insight from people you trust

Now I want you to go out and find at least five trustworthy people who know you (at any level). Trust is incredibly important. You want people who care enough about you that they’ll be honest, brutally so. Explain to them that you want their help with a self-improvement task and ask them for five words or phrases that describe and define you as a person to them. Ask them not to sugarcoat it – negative or positive, you want honest feedback.

I keep using the word “trust” here very intentionally. It’s of the utmost importance that you trust these people for honest feedback, AND that you trust that they have the best intentions when they respond. Do not take offense to any negative feedback – it is there to help you.

Pro-tip: Try getting feedback from people who have known you for different amounts of time. This way you can compare first impressions to those who’ve known you for a long time. (Think of all those times you’ve heard those “Once you get to know me, you’ll see I’m really…” statements.)

Feel free to meet in person, call, text message, email, post on Facebook or Twitter. Do whatever it takes – the more results the better. I’ve put in space for five responses below if you want to print this out and ask people. Okay – go ask them!

The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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Done? Great – last step!

Step 3: Compare and contrast

Now that you’ve gotten all the data it’s time to compare the two sets of answers. This is where you really get to assess your self-awareness. Did you say you were detail-oriented and 3 out of 5 trusted advisors agree – great! Did you say you were punctual and hardworking but most of your friends said you were lazy or always late? Great!

Yes, I said great! You just got a blessing in disguise. It stings to hear that you’re seen as lazy or disrespectful of other people’s time – but now you know. Better yet, now you can do something about it (if you want to, of course).

It’s okay to dig a little deeper for follow-up. Ask those friends/colleagues why they think you’re lazy or lack punctuality. Perhaps it’s because every time they come to your office you’re always on Facebook or Twitter. It’s possible that you’re a community manager and you have to keep up on what others are saying and manage those mediums for your job. In that case, you can use this opportunity to talk with your friends about why you’re on Twitter, and also use the knowledge to help inform how you interact with others in the future.

Perhaps a few people agreed that you had great attention to detail, but when you probed a little more you found out that they thought it was too much detail. It’s time for more self-reflection. Perhaps you need to be a little more succinct and hold details back when appropriate. It’s all about managing expectations and continuous self-improvement, something every great leader should do.


Bonus Step: The 5 words you wish to be

I also recommend that people consider doing an extra step which is writing down the 5 words or phrases with which you would LIKE to be described.

The 5 words or phrases I would like used to describe myself in the future:

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This helps give you a goal to shoot for and can help give you actionable steps to progress toward that goal.

For example, if you know that you are consistently described as “late,” but you want to be described as “punctual” in the future, then work to change that. Make it a habit to leave for events earlier than you think you need to, learn to anticipate problems, plan more ahead of time (what to wear, what to bring, etc.), set more alarms, get others to call you to make sure you’re up and moving in the morning. So on and so forth.

The point is that the best leaders are the ones who are constantly aware of themselves, how others view them, and what they can do to enhance that perception. If everyone on your team sees you as a tyrant who couldn’t care less about them, it’s going to be hard to get them to rally their efforts and support your projects. If, on the other hand, they see you as a collaborator who just wants to see everyone reach their full potential, then they might not balk if you send back their work ‘one more time’ for a review and polish.

In the end, though there are some innate traits that will be extremely hard to change, knowing is half the battle. For a great leader, that knowledge is what you use to win the war.

FREE RESOURCES: Please feel free to download one of our 5 Words or Phrases Review guides to have handy each time you complete the assessment!

PDF IconDownload full PDF – Includes entire original article with step-by-step guidance and worksheet to go through the review

PDF IconDownload assessment PDF – Includes review worksheet only

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A Better Experience: Google Calendar Pro-tip

(As originally seen on SheriRubin.com here: http://sherirubin.com/2013/03/google-calendar-pro-tip/)

I’ve seen people respond to Google calendar invites by saying, “I can’t respond to this” or “Can you please send this to my Google address at <insert Google/Gmail associated email here>?”

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t need a/your Google email address to accept or decline the invite. Here’s how:

Step 1: Open up the email which has the Google Calendar invite in it.

Step 2: Right-click and choose “Copy Link Location” (or similar) on the corresponding answer (e.g. Yes, No, Maybe, etc.).

Step 3: Open up any browser where you are not signed in to Google, e.g. if you normally use Firefox and are signed into Google, open up IE or Chrome or Opera or Safari (or just sign out temporarily in your main browser).

Step 4: In a new tab/window paste in the link that you just copied and hit enter/go.

That’s it, you’re done!

Note: for those of you who use Google Calendar for your scheduling system, this method will not put the event in your calendar. It simply provides a response to the person who sent you the invite. This is especially helpful for those who receive a lot of Google Calendar invites, still want to be courteous and RSVP, but do not use Google.

Hope this helps! Stay awesome!
Sheri

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Writing Letters: Gas Station Edition

Dear Gas Station,

I think it’s awesome that you have your very own gas station radio network that provides fun music and news updates for people who are standing at the pump. Truly! But then I heard your “commercial” that said (I’m paraphrasing here) “Hey Moms, Got kids at home? You should buy them candy! We’ve got lots of sweets inside to choose from. Your kids love candy and why not make them happy when you get home?”

First of all, what about all those wonderful dads who rarely get recognized for their parenting (especially single fathers! or loving gay couples!) in marketing and ad campaigns and are instead often shown as the “bad cop” parent, or the incompetent one, or the one who never takes care of his kids? This commercial implicitly says that dads would never consider showing their kids love by getting them candy. I hope that’s not your intention. But look even more closely – the language of the ad also implies that moms are the only ones who would try to butter up their kids with candy. So, now you’re insulting moms by a) saying she can’t have her kids’ love without candy and/or b) saying she doesn’t provide her kids with healthy treats, so candy is the only option – either way it ALL sounds bad.

And besides all of that, the worst part is how your ad assumes that moms are at the gas station filling up their car with gas alone. Because what you’ve really done with your loud radio network is upset the mom (your customer) standing there with her kids in the car who just heard ‘hey – REMEMBER THAT CANDY EXISTS AND YOU WANT IT! NAG YOUR MOMMY!’ On your end, you’re probably thinking this is a great way to boost sales by way of add-ons – “don’t just come to the gas station to fill up your car, remember we’re also a convenience store.” HOWEVER…

What you didn’t consider is that she may have just spent the last 10 minutes at the grocery store trying to tell them why they didn’t need any candy from the candy aisle or the checkout lane. She may have just spent the last bit of money in her wallet to buy enough gas to get them all home. She may also now be listening to her kids, who just heard your ad, screaming at her to go buy them some candy and throwing tantrums if she says, “no.” Now she’s exasperated with YOU and thinking “I can never come back here because that terrible ad made my life, in this moment, miserable.” Great job! (sarcasm) You’ve lost a customer for life.

Moral of the story: If you’re going to bother creating ads for your very own radio network, you may want to think twice about the messages you’re really sending.

Onward and upward!
Sheri

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Case Study: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

This series focuses on companies who have gone above and beyond to serve their customers.

(This story was originally published on the founder’s website SheriRubin.com under the title Why Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Is Awesome aka A Lesson In Brand Loyalty And Customer Service)

Most people who know me know that I love Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, a lot. I have been going to various Ruth’s Chris locations for special and sometimes not as special occasions for twenty years now. At some point it turned from the occasional nice night out to a desire to go to every single location (and I can happily say I’ve been to many more than once!). I’m not sure when it happened, it just did.

I had been going to lots of locations because a) I love steak and b) most RC locations have been phenomenal experiences. It is a rare thing when almost all locations in a chain provide great food and great service. One of the tricks I have for getting to so many Ruth’s Chris locations is that when I’m traveling for work/conferences I try and see if there’s a new Ruth’s Chris nearby and can I squeak out some time to get out there with colleagues. (It also helped that I lived for four years in California so was able to cover almost all of them while I was there!) The completionist in me even checks each location off as I visit on their quick card that shows you all the locations.

At the end of 2012 I had been to my 38th and 39th different Ruth’s Chris locations. I was figuring #40 should be a special occasion and my husband mentioned my birthday was coming up. So I thought why not ask Ruth’s Chris themselves for suggestions for a location I haven’t been to within driving distance (which doesn’t leave many options :>) that would be spectacular, e.g. spectacular architecture/design, spectacular view, something.

What happened since then was nothing short of amazing.

5 March 2013: I reached out to Ruth’s Chris on Facebook with a small inquiry. After a few messages back and forth over the next couple days not only had the corporate organization found me in their system but also had researched and tracked down two new locations they thought would fit the bill. They even explained their choices and passed along a few other tips as well.

After a brief discussion with my husband the decision was made and we had decided to make #40 the restaurant located in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. This would be my 40th distinct Ruth’s Chris location but it would also (FINALLY!) be my 1st non-US location as well!

16 March 2013: The hotel room is booked and we’re now set for a night at the Four Points by Sheraton in Niagara Falls where you can literally take the elevator down to the lower level and walk to the restaurant without ever leaving the hotel – WOOHOO!

5 April 2013: My husband and I cross the border, arrive at our hotel, unpack, stretch out from the long drive, and get dressed in some of our finest to head down to dinner.

Image from Ruth's Chris Niagara Falls on Facebook

Image from Ruth’s Chris Niagara Falls on Facebook

When we check in at the restaurant one of the hostesses goes “I know who you are – you’re our special guest!” and proceeds to take us on a tour of the restaurant. Note: This location is not like any other location, it was literally built around another restaurant in the hotel and so it is VERY long and people could probably do laps and get good exercise walking it – I don’t know how the servers (and especially the hosts in heels) do it!

Once we’re done with the tour we’re taken back to our table, one of the best in the place, where we’re presented with two glasses of champagne and an envelope. Inside the envelope is a gift card from Ruth’s Chris that’s large enough to cover our entire meal. On top of that is a message congratulating me on making it not only to my 40th different Ruth’s Chris, but my first international one, a line saying the champagne was on them, and it also wished me a happy birthday!

notecard

From there we were treated like royalty with special attention paid to us the entire way. The server had memorized my favorites and what I usually order, the managers and hosts all came to see how our meal was going and what we thought of our location, and even the desert was delivered with a special personalized message (as opposed to the typical “happy birthday!” message often written on the plate).

congrats

At the end of the entire meal we were treated to a visit by the chef and had a great time conversing with many of the staff about which restaurants I’ve been to, how theirs was different, etc. and why I love Ruth’s Chris so much.

I have taken many people to Ruth’s Chris to introduce them to the amazingness that is steak served on hot plates and butter melted all over it and this is exactly why. Ruth’s Chris continues to try and deliver wonderful food with wonderful service. That they went through the trouble of contacting the restaurant after my inquiry and set all that up shows their commitment to treating customers as they deserve to be treated both in AND out of their restaurants.

I’d like to end with a thank you to my husband who traveled on the long road trip there and back with me and a BIG thank you to Ruth’s Chris for orchestrating the whole thing. I can’t wait to go back!

 

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Small Details, Big Payoff: Being Upfront With Customers

Recently, Blip.tv made some changes to how they handle “Pro Accounts” and their users. Their service is home to many individuals and companies’ who have been storing, displaying, and paying to host their videos with Blip.tv for years. Now Blip.tv has decided that, although they provided this as a service in the past, they no longer want to and have started canceling everyone’s subscriptions.

We changed our minds, we just forgot to tell you.

We suddenly changed our minds, please accept our non-reversible account cancellation as notification.

Did Blip.tv warn customers ahead of time that this major change in policy would be happening? Not that I know of.

Did Blip.tv email their paying “pro” users to let customers know in advance that things were changing things, they should make other arrangements for their content, and that Blip.tv will decide who gets to stay and who gets to go? Not that I know of.

Instead, many users received an out-of-the-blue email from PayPal stating that there was a cancellation of their paid subscription to Blip.tv. It was an automated email from PayPal, so there was no way to tell how or why it had canceled and many people assumed it was their PayPal account that was having issues.

Not only did they not receive clarifying information in their only notification email, there was no direct communication from Blip.tv. (Former) customers had to search Blip.tv’s support section to find this sparse and rudely worded FAQ:

Blip.tv doesn't even want to be 'just friends.'

Blip.tv doesn’t even want to be ‘just friends.’

I had clients come to me in a panic, concerned that all of their videos were going to be lost if they didn’t find a backup system ASAP. They were upset to have been paying Blip.tv, often for years, with no word or expectation from the company that what they were doing was “not what Blip.tv wanted.” The only way these customers could have known was if they had dug deep into the notoriously muddy language of the terms of service.

Next, Blip.tv essentially accused their customers of paying to circumvent their TOS!

How dare you do something you didn't know you were doing!

How dare you do something you didn’t know you were doing!

People in my networks complained that they do, in fact, have what they believe to be a web series, but Blip.tv’s FAQ doesn’t make anything clear. Example: If a customer believes their web series has been removed in error, how can they contest Blip.tv’s decision to remove it?

So while Blip.tv may have thought they were just saving a lot of bandwidth, storage, servers, and time “handling” videos, they’ve actually severely damaged their brand. They failed their customers/users in so many places.

How to discontinue a service and/or adjust customer expectations:

- Be upfront with customers/users about upcoming changes that may affect them. Do this in advance, do it across multiple communication channels, and make sure there’s a supportive FAQ (and hopefully customer service rep or twelve) to handle the inevitable questions people will have.

- Properly set expectations. Had Blip.tv been more clear to their PAID users about the focus of the service from the beginning, this whole ordeal may have been avoided and frustration with Blip.tv’s brand minimized.

- Define your terms. There are a lot of people who don’t really understand what a ‘web series’ is, and with good reason. In this fast-paced, ever-evolving world, definitions shift and change all the time. This means it’s even more important to help your customer understand what it is you as a company do and what they are paying you for.

- Provide an appropriate place for feedback. For the customers who don’t understand why their web series doesn’t count as a web series,  or other reasons why their video was rejected, give them a place to ask questions, get feedback, and explore resources for bringing their content up to snuff.

The worst part of this whole ordeal may be how Blip.tv handled their now disenfranchised former customers.

Here we come YouTube and Vimeo!

Here we come YouTube and Vimeo!

These people who previously paid Blip.tv hard-earned money are confused about why their web series isn’t “really” a web series in Blip.tv’s terms, are scrambling to find a new way to handle their previously created videos, are considering how to make their upcoming content count as an official web series, and are soured on your brand. Why in the world would they come back to you with any future products that do fit Blip.tv’s definition of web series when the company so helpfully (sarcasm) suggested some competitors the customer can use instead? They were treated like dirt.

It’s amazing what proper messaging on a sign-up screen, or an email notification to affected users, would have done to mitigate the damage and hard feelings toward Blip.tv. Consider this a cautionary tale to other companies planning discontinuations of products and services in the future.

Onward and upward!
Sheri

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Writing Letters: Yahoo

Dear Yahoo,

I get that you’re a really big company. You brand yourself as one of the top companies in the world for getting users the information they want through searching, advertising, and news/media generation. I empathize with the fact that your news section  has hundreds, probably thousands, of articles posted daily. I even understand that you probably have your ‘top headlines’ email auto-generated based on article popularity.

What I don’t think YOU understand is how all that automation wastes your customer’s time and can negatively affect your profits.

The ridiculousness of automated headlines gets compounded when they’re all aggregated together in a “daily headlines” email.

For example:

Let’s say today’s email features 14 headlines (how the number of headlines varies from day to day is a blog post of its own… ).  I’ve noticed you have a tendency to repeat subjects in articles that aren’t all that different from one another. In this case it boils down to three of those 14 headlines being about story A and two about story B. This means five of your headlines are about just two topics.  Five of fourteen is nearly half of your stories. Instead of clicking through to your site to learn or read about 14 items, I’m reading 11 or fewer. Not only does this repetition leave customers annoyed, but can also upset your bottom line.

How? Well,  a person who signs up to receive your “daily headlines” email and actually wants to read every story, will self-select to read the eleven stories that aren’t redundant. And really, why should they click on the 3rd article about an earthquake when they already got the scoop two articles ago. This reduces your page views, reduces ad impressions, and reduces the impressiveness of the statistics you can use to sell ads and other partner deals.

Did you notice all the duplicate stories here?

Did you notice all the duplicate stories here?

You’re probably thinking that each of those repeat articles still gets a lot of views and they cover the story from different angles. I’m sure you’re right, but it doesn’t mean it makes sense or that it doesn’t have an impact on your readers.

Take this batch of daily headlines  -  there are multiple stories covering Blackhawks v. Bruins in the first game of the Stanley Cup finals:

YahooDailyNewsHeadlines-ChangedStories

Maybe if you had lead with the 2nd OT article, followed by the 3rd OT, and finally the actual outcome of the game, it may have at least built up some suspense.

Your headlines show the game going into 2nd overtime, 3rd overtime, and then final score, IN REVERSE ORDER. :) Why is this better than just the final score article – which I’m sure includes all the details on what kept things moving from regular period to 1 OT to 2 OT to 3 OT and Final.

This isn’t limited to hockey, because you did the same thing with the NBA playoffs from the day before:

YahooDailyNewsHeadlines-ChangedStories-NBA

Why are you trying to tell me what the current score in the 3rd quarter is when the Spurs already won the game and went home for the night?

Your readers are probably frustrated at having to comb through all the duplicates. Worse, wasting time reading through partial stories when the full information is readily available. Your website is not getting readers to the good, final story that will keep them reading and tick up those ad impression that help you make money.

Even if you are going to continue to aggregate, write lots of content that’s similar in topic, and continue to auto-collate all your daily headline emails, you can still improve the automation process. I am confident that you have enough programming prowess in your offices that someone should be able to create and refine a program that checks for similar headlines, discards the 2nd one (or earlier article, which helps with items like sports game updates), and adds another headline to the list. Maybe even something as easy as ‘Spurs’ appears in one  article, so the next ‘Spurs’ that appears in a headline gets the whole story removed.

Will you possibly discard articles on two IRS-related articles that actually feature different content? Sure.

Will you get more variety of content, prevent email subscriber loss, and probably gain more ad impressions? Absolutely.

Taking more care in how you curate the top content for email alerts feels like a small thing. But it can help so much with preventing reader fatigue and driving up your ad impressions. Keep your customers saying ‘Yahoo!’, instead of “ugh, not this story again!”

Onward and upward!
Sheri

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