Reading Is Still Fundamental

I come from a family of readers! We didn’t just read occasionally – we read All. The. Time.

I grew up with parents who were avid readers. Even though my father only had an eighth-grade education, which was not uncommon for children growing up in rural areas in the 1930s, he spent most of his evenings reading.

Mom and Dad Were Readers

Dad learned to love reading when he was in the army during World War II.  There was little to do to break the monotony, so the soldiers read whatever they could find. My Dad favored westerns for the most part, but Mom said one day he picked up one of her romances to read. (Wonder what he thought of it.)

  • Dad read the newspaper every day and used his reading skills to take a correspondence course in electronics and TV repair in the 1960s. (This was a class taken by snail mail way, way, way before personal computers and the internet.)
  • He read manuals and instructions for assembling projects.
  • He had a fascination with bicycling in the 1970s and read magazines and books on biking.
  • As a farmer and auto mechanic, he read books on gardening and tried to keep up with the automotive knowledge that was beginning to change so rapidly.

My mother also read widely. She read cookbooks, gardening books, fiction… anything and everything. She favored romances but engaged numerous interests while I was growing up. She researched everything from astrology to Zen Buddhism.

During her later years, she spent time reading about ways to manage her diabetes. Eventually, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy had made it impossible for her to read.

My Brothers and I Are Readers

My brothers and I all caught the reading habit. They enjoy westerns and science fiction among other things. They all read manuals and magazines and other material to keep up with the technology for their jobs in software engineering and radio technology. Their wives read. The family trades books to read.

Of course, I read every day. A. Lot.

  • I read the newspaper every day to keep up with what is going on in the world, especially about things that affect us and our children.
  • I read cookbooks to fix healthy and tasty meals for the family.
  • I read books about writing to improve my craft.
  • When I was a medical technologist I had to read and write laboratory procedures.

I read children’s, young adult, and adult fare from Harry Potter to Artemis Fowle to books by Mercedes Lackey. I like romances and mysteries and science fiction and fantasy. If the writing moves along well, I will read almost anything, including medicine, art, theater, and music.

My curiosity bump causes me to read articles about a wide variety of subjects in magazines and papers just because they sound interesting or catch my attention. Many are scientific in nature. I read textbooks to refresh myself on subjects I haven’t thought about in awhile to answer questions for the kids.  As a freelance writer, I read on different subjects for research purposes and to learn more about my craft.

I Married a Reader

My husband also likes to read.

  • He reads the paper every day and keeps up with the new using online resources.
  • He likes to read books about military subjects, having been in the Air Force for many years.
  • He is very interested in submarines and in the Titanic.
  • He also likes science fiction and Harry Potter but reads much more non-fiction for pleasure than I do.

He reads manuals and all manner of technical material in order to keep current for software testing. He read textbooks for a course in Project Management.

“I Get It! But why? Why do we read?”

Because we can’t NOT read…

  • For information and pleasure
  • Out of curiosity
  • To learn new things
  • To keep up with a world that changes quickly and constantly.

Reading is absolutely necessary to go online, read prescription instructions, or learn the best way to plant peas. When we read a book that really speaks to us, it can change our life!

Re-reading a favorite book is like visiting old friends. Finishing a book that we just can’t put down can be exciting but a bit depressing.

The story was great — Yay! but now it is over (Boo hoo) — On to the next!

Reading can make us want to try new things, take us to other places, and keep us in touch with family and friends. Reading can comfort us when we are tired or sad. Reading can inspire us in ways that television, movies, videos, and games never can because we are free to interpret what we read for ourselves.

Remember the program “Reading is FUNdamental”?

Even now, in the Age of the Internet, reading is still at the foundation of all we do.

For writing services to give you and your customers something to read, contact me at Aubrian Content Creation and Curation.

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Evolve and Adapt to Remain Relevant in Today’s Working World

Scott Burns, a noted financial columnist, posted a column about a woman who showed that the recent economic upheavals did not have to end in disaster. Kristen Hertel had been a successful employee of a large real estate brokerage firm. When the bottom dropped out, Hertel determined to go out on her own but she was smart about it. She got her licenses and opened, not one, but four small businesses, each of which answered a particular niche in the market. These businesses also looked at target customers who have a higher budget for the types of services she offered.

Two of her businesses that arose out of the housing crisis specialized in short sales. She provided sellers and realtors with the tools and services to complete the short sale with less hassle. Another business offered more mainstream services such as title and closing services. The fourth provides outsourcing for real estate agent support.

The word for quite some time has been to keep up your knowledge base and broaden your experiences and skills. Something else to think about is what you could do with those skills if jobs were scarce. Not all of us are cut out to run our own businesses, but with entrepreneurs like Hertel there will always be smaller niche businesses that could offer you a way to start a new career or advance the one you have. Granted, benefits may be slim, but if you are working, you are keeping up your experience and gaining new insights, much more so than acquiring a degree. Smaller businesses can also offer a broader range of experience because everyone tends to wear multiple hats.

With this in mind, when you are keeping up with news in your industry or interests, make sure to include start-ups and other new businesses related to your field. Find out what they do and keep it in mind if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of the proverbial pink slip.

Here are links to Hertel’s companies:

Advanced Title and Escrow
Advanced Short Sale Negotiators

No matter what field you are in, there are always support businesses for it. Don’t neglect them in your job search or when going out on your own.

Another Nail in the Post Office Coffin

Even before the Post Office’s current problems, stemming from a requirement for prepayment into retirement programs, it hadn’t been a place you wanted to business with. It has been the butt of jokes for years about their service record:

  • Slow service at the counter
  • Lack of technology for payment
  • Package and letter handling disasters
  • Attitude of workers toward the public

The USPS was pretty much a monopoly for years. As such, it engendered all the bad habits of a monopoly; the attitude that since you couldn’t get the same service elsewhere they knew you were stuck with the system. Granted, the United States has had the privilege of low costs for mailings for over a century. And it does still turn a profit.

But changes came fast and furious. Private enterprise had trouble keeping up. Could anyone actually expect a bureaucratic behemoth like the postal service to be any better? Or even as good as? Now revenues are dropping as more the post office’s work goes online. Talk about a new sense of convenience and efficiency…just what we humans like – everything made easy. Why go somewhere that went out of its way to make it hard to do business?

Even now, when I can see some workers trying to make a better effort at customer service, too often the post office doesn’t seem to be able to convince all their workers that the post offices future lies in being of great service. Now the USPS has another trouble of private enterprise: not enough revenue to pay for more workers, training, and technology to pull itself back to the top.

No Joy in Dirtville: The Rangers Lose Steam, Could Your Employees Run Out of Gas, Too?

I’m not really a sports fan but I got a little excited last week when it looked like the Rangers were about to win their first World Series. That was a heart-breaker, not being able to come back in that final game and git’er done.

Hence, my title “No Joy In Dirtville.” We haven’t had enough rain this year to be Mudville.And it wasn’t mighty Casey striking out, it was just lackluster performance. The 6th game just seemed to suck it all out of them and they couldn’t shake it.

Be aware of something similar happening to your employees. On those days when the customers have been especially tough on them or when they are just having a day where nothing goes right, it may be that the next day or two could be less productive for them. As a manager, just like Wash, you need to find a way to keep it from getting your team down.

It can get particularly dicey around performance appraisal time. This once a year data dump that should have been parceled out over the last 12 months can lower morale like nobody’s business if poor performance marks come as a big surprise. Can you imagine how productive you would be after being told that the past year of your life has been a series of mistakes and mediocre work even though nothing was said before this?

Nobody likes to tell someone they aren’t doing it right, but as managers we need to find ways to coach our teams to better work habits and higher skill levels. This can’t be done once a year, it has to come to your employees all the time so they can make those little course corrections.

At the end of 12 months you would be amazed at the road your staff can be on if they are guided throughout the year.

Customer Service R&R: Metrics and Rewards & Recognition

90% (of) Employees say customer experience is very important or critical in their company’s strategies
31% (of) Employees say company recognized or rewards employees for improving the experience.
from How to Build a Customer-Centric Culture

That’s quite a contrast. What it tells me is that most customer service employees want to provide a good customer experience but that little in the way of incentive comes their way for doing so. Since people generally do what they are incented to do it might be time to investigate what your employees are being incented to do.

Take a look at the metrics that are measured in your customer service center. Do they encourage staying with the customer until everything is fixed? Or do they encourage hanging up as soon as possible? Do you measure metrics that let employees know that customer experience is top of mind or do you measure performance by how many calls the employees can take in an hour?

The metrics you measure tell employees what your expectations and priorities are. This means any rewards and recognition tied to those metrics guide where they put their efforts on behalf of your company. Be certain that what you are rewarding is the behavior and performance that meets your stated goal of making a customer-centric customer experience, not one of efficiency at all costs.

It may cost customers.

When VOC Calls – Listen

I don’t know about your newspaper, but mine seems full of bad news today. Housing prices are sinking, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says the economy is near stall speed, and Reddy Ice Holdings is in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

Real downer, dudes and dudettes. But do not let these types of goings on rattle your cage, especially if you are about to cast an eye at slashing customer support. You have a gold mine there in case you don’t know it.

Your customers are feeling the pinch, just like you. Ask yourself, do I feel like making any cash outlays right now? Or would I like to know my vendor has my back until things stabilize but making sure what I already have keeps working right and that I learn about any great deals quickly?

These are the same feelings your customers have. And you should be able to tell from the feedback you get whenever one of them contacts your organization. If you are doing it right, customer service and customer support are putting some valuable information into the customer service management system.

By finding out how often and why people are calling, you can target incentives, sales collateral, and good karma toward your existing customers. These are the ones you want to stay around until things are more flush. It’s fun to get new customers, sure, but expensive. The ones you already have deserve your undivided attention for remaining loyal.

Get your system to tell you the trends in parts replacements, problems, requested features or products, and where all this is coming from. Make sure you are alerted as early as possible about customer dissatisfaction so you can catch them and fix it before they go to a competitor. Work with them so they know you understand their situation so that, even if they leave, when they feel more able to afford it, they will come back.

You can’t find all these things out if you don’t listen. The Voice of the Customer shouldn’t just blow in the wind. Even now your have information that you can use and you can find out more by adding some feedback management to your customer service and support.

Just like you can’t fix what you don’t measure, you can’t improve if you don’t learn precisely what is needed from the very people you need to keep your company afloat.

Congratulations CRM Idol 2011 Finalists!

The list is out and the competition is stiff. Out of a field of 22 contestants, Paul Greenberg and friends have whittled the field to four finalists:

  • Assistly
  • Crowd Factory
  • Get Satisfaction
  • Stone Cobra

Be sure to read Paul’s comments about Assistly’s eligibility.

This has been like the Westminster Dog Show so I congratulate the judges because, just like in a dog show, they were asked, not to judge these companies against each other, but against “best of breed”. See, the companies weren’t all the same thing.

The call for contestants went out for “CRM-ish” companies of particular revenue levels. They got everything from pure customer support applications to social marketing applications to a community/forum application. On one hand it made it nice because as a contestant you could be comfortable cheering each other on. But it also made it hard because it seemed like you couldn’t always define what the judges might be looking for.

This contest shows there are myriad ways to keep up with your customers. All of these companies have had success with a variety of ways to learn, serve, and support customers over multiple channels while learning best practices along the way. How do you know what you need in your organization?

The same way we have always touted: know your customers. Find out how they like to communicate. Make it easy for them to help themselves AND get to a human when needed. Don’t just take in the information, sift it and grind it to find actionable data that can help you improve your business. And take that action, don’t just research and report.

There is no one size fits all in customer service and support anymore than there is in clothing. But you need to define your requirements before looking at systems and definitely before making a choice. This choice is going to be around awhile. Make sure you and your customers can live with it.

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