3 Things That Companies Get Wrong When Thinking Of Team Building

Years ago, it was common for company executives and decision makers to snicker at the idea of team building, often downplaying it as hippy-dippy or an excuse for employees to go bowling and get drunk.

Today, team building has become one of the most valuable investments that a company can make–it helps forge strong bonds among team members, opens up communication, reduces conflict and builds trust. That being said, even today a few commonly-held fallacies dissuade companies from pulling the trigger. Here are three misconceptions about team building which should have been retired along with the phablet. 

Team Building Sucks

Based on the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM), which found its foothold in Japanese manufacturing in the 1940’s, modern team building sets out to both improve connections among people–a growing need around the world–and is designed to bring new perspective, through experiential workshops, so people can be more deliberate, more often in the areas that matter most.

Even though team building has been around for nearly 80 years, one activity in particular has significantly damaged its reputation over the years. Team building has lost its meaning over time due to the proliferation of poorly advised group exercises such as the now comical trust falls.

Bill John, President and founder of Odyssey Teams, Inc. has been providing team building expertise to professionals for over 25 years. He sees a direct link between employee cohesion and profit. “It’s about connecting team members with a value of their product and customers. If they can’t do that, they can’t connect with each other.” Team building transforms people, teams, businesses and communities. Who doesn’t want to have more meaningful relationships with fellow team members and the mindset to better impact their cohorts?

Millennials Are a Lost Cause

Millennials have been called lazy, entitled and narcissistic while also being blamed for destroying a number of industries. Not only is this generalization misguided, it undermines team cohesion and company culture. Older generations are simply failing to understand Millennials’ priorities, one of which is philanthropy. This is why corporate social responsibility (CSR) really resonates with this generation.

Millennials make up a significant percentage of today’s workforce, and team building is an effective way to reach and motivate them. It’s not that Millennials are opposed to connecting, it’s just the delivery method has to be different. 

No matter the generation there is always a divide in how the previous generation sees the new generation engage. Our motivations and instincts are all the same but we grow up with different technology, different habits and different social norms. 

I’m incredibly personable but I also wear headphones when I go to the grocery store–if I even go to the grocery store because ordering it on my phone is even more convenient. 

So make the process more convenient. 

Cheap Solutions Are Best

Unless you work for one of the big boys in Silicon Valley, odds are that your company has a finite budget so when it comes to team building, getting the best bang for your buck is logical.

However, companies who skimp on team building are doomed to pay the price in the long run. Sure, your team will probably enjoy visiting an escape room or hearing a guest speaker, but the positive effects of such activities are likely to be minimal at best.

A proper, professional team building experience, on the other hand, forges new and lasting relationships among team members, resulting in long-term, increased overall engagement. In addition, budgeting for a quality team building workshop shows your team that you are invested in them. When employees feel valued by their employers, they are more likely to rise to the challenge when their company really needs them. 

Money Cannot Fix a Toxic Workplace, But This Can — According to Research

The headlines are usually the same — a previously hyped company exposed as a toxic workplace. And typically that means it is most poisonous to its own employees. The stories of weak integrity and marginalizing leaders shine a light on darkness that many workplaces know all too well.

Companies become toxic for a number of reasons. Most typically is when leaders prioritize financial results over anything else. This leads to bad behavior and unhappy workers.

But while the cause may garner bold headlines, there is something even more revealing that is worth your attention — how companies handle the fallout after the expose. And I can tell you that the ones that fire a few leaders and throw “stay bonuses” to keep good people end up circling back again to the same destructive work culture.

Yes, it is important to be compensated well for hard work — but money alone cannot fix a toxic work culture. So, what can fix a toxic workplace?

Studies show that non-financial perks (such as recognition, remote work, and flexible schedules) make a considerable impact on employee engagement and job satisfaction. The best companies go beyond financial rewards and address what people really want — appreciation and the chance to be their best in every area of life. This is true if a company is already behaving well or recovering from poor behavior.

Our team at Aha! has always taken a human-centric approach to building the company. So, we go out of our way to share gratitude for each team member. We also built Aha! on the premise and promise of remote work, and we continue to be 100 percent distributed even as the company rapidly grows. As of this writing, we have more than 75 teammates working across four continents, six countries, and eight time zones.

Now, if you are in a truly terrible and cruel work environment, I am not suggesting that you will be able to solve it by occasionally “thanking” the team with some trinket or bonus, or even by implementing a remote work policy. Workplace happiness is obviously more nuanced than that.

Here are five key ingredients that I believe are necessary for people to be happy at work:

Purpose
You want to feel like your work matters. So ask yourself: Do you know what you are working on each day and why? How does your work fit into the company’s big picture? When the answers to these questions are clear, even your most mundane tasks will be fused with a sense of purpose.

Growth
Happiness does not come from maintaining the status quo. Leaders should provide a clear path for growth — offering you opportunities to increase skills, take on new projects, and move into new roles. If this is not happening for you, you might need to pursue your own growth, whether it is volunteering for a new project, seeking out a mentor, or having an honest conversation with your boss about your career trajectory (or lack thereof).

Respect
This is a two-way exchange. You need to respect the company you work for and you need them to respect you right back. This is about more than just basic kindness (though that is important too). It is about taking actions every day to add to your reservoir of respect. Make an effort daily to listen closely, respond quickly, and show gratitude. Your company and teammates should do the same for you.

Autonomy
Another sign of a respectful culture is trusting you to get the work done. It should not matter if you are at the office late into the night or working from your own kitchen table. When a company offers this kind of autonomy — whether it is remote work or a flexible environment — it helps you bring your best to every part of life. You can work hard for your company while still being available for your friends and family.

Passion
Leaders help build happiness by providing all of the above, but it is ultimately up to you to find and pursue your own passion. Sure, not every day will have you jumping with joy — but most days should be fueled by a love for what you do. If this passion is lacking, try to focus on finding small joys in your day-to-day tasks, such as helping a teammate in need or honing new skills.

Earlier, I wrote that companies become toxic for a number of reasons. But there is one consistent truth that can help prevent the myriad of causes — money should never come before people.

And money also cannot fix the dysfunction either. The only way to really fix it is to take a holistic approach to creating more happiness at work — appreciating the contributions of each team member and helping them to achieve their best every day.

What do you need to be happy at work?

5 Guaranteed Ways To Be Successful (and what top innovators have to say about them)

Success. We all want it.  But how do we achieve lasting success that actually makes us feel fulfilled instead of burnt-out? Below are 5 key principles guaranteed to help you reach the kind of success that leaves you challenged, fulfilled, motivated and confident.

Genius:

Your genius involves the kind of thinking and problem solving that keeps you in your sweet spot of challenge, meaning you’re challenged in the best way possible. Ask yourself, “When are you in the zone?” Pay attention to those moments and identify the type of thinking that you’re doing when you’re in the zone. By identifying this, you can learn how to seek out the kind of work that is energizing and presents just the right amount of challenge. Once you nurture your genius, you can become exceptional at it and use it to build a career that moves you. Learn more about defining your Genius.

Purpose:

Purpose is often overlooked when thinking about success. Typically, if you feel purposeful in your job, it’s considered lucky rather than a key to success. But identifying your purpose, specifically the impact you have on clients and colleagues that is meaningful to you, is a powerful tool for navigating career momentum and being successful. Think about it: If you know you’re purpose then you know what kind of work is fulfilling to you. If you’re purpose is saving the planet, you can excel in finding opportunities for business owners to be greener or incorporate more wellness practices into their corporation. You’ll also learn who to connect with and enrich those relationships to achieve career momentum. Adam Grant’s research proved that just understanding the impact of your work improves performance. Hear more from Adam Grant here.

Joy:

How often have you thought you were happy at work, but truthfully were just an achievement junkie – addicted to that dopamine rush any time you achieved a goal or received validation? If this is you, you’re missing out on the energizing sense of enjoyment that comes from the process of your work, not just in achieving goals. Also, when achievements are your only source of joy, you must achieve, achieve, achieve – which causes exhaustion and burnout.  Enjoying the process of your work just as much as achievements brings more happiness to your job, which according to Shawn Achor is not just nice to have, but essential to better performance. Check out Shawn Achor’s talk on happiness.

Growth Mindset:

A key driver of success is being mindful of what’s driving your efforts. According to Eduardo Briceńo most people are operating in a performance zone rather than a learning zone which actually hinders performance. When you start thinking that you can always improve, you become more empowered and more motivated to tackle hurdles. Carol Dweck calls this a Growth Mindset and says that when you realize your skills aren’t static you’re more likely to achieve the success you desire. Here’s more from Eduardo Briceńo.

Perseverance:

One word exemplifies perseverance more than any other; Grit. Angela Duckworth defines Grit as the combination of passion and perseverance for achieving long-term goals. In other words, never giving up. What’s more important than IQ is your power to believe in your own abilities despite setbacks and never giving up. Watch Angela Duckworth define Grit.

Plastic Straws’ Days Are Numbered. But You Can Slurp On With These Green Alternatives

My daughter–now an environmentalist who used to delight in blowing the wrapping paper off straws at me when I wasn’t looking–broke the news to me: Plastic straws may be on the verge of extinction. The fact is that they are terrible for the environment; perhaps worse than plastic bottles or bags

According to Fast Company, 500 million straws are used daily in the U.S. and McDonalds is already testing alternatives. Many states are on the verge of prohibiting them and some countries already have bans in place. 

Sustainable practices are good for business in the long run. They give rise to creative solutions. According to Transparency Market Research, reusable water bottles will generate $10 billion in sales by 2024 and have even become trendy fashion accessories.

Inventors are already on the case, marketing alternatives to the plastic straw. Hay Straws declares, “Plastic straws suck!” on its website and sells straws that can go directly from your empty bottle or glass into the compost bin.

You can even carry your own straws around. Greens Straws come with their own cleaning brush and a lifetime guarantee. The family-run business was created in 2015 and the company behind the straws — Greens Steel — also makes water bottles and cups. The self-funded business based out of Portland, Oregon reports that straw sales have doubled since consumers became more aware of the environmental issue. Much of Greens Straws marketing efforts go toward education, teaching consumers and restaurants about the dangers of plastic straws. 

Simply Straws was an early innovator, creating handcrafted glass straws in California as early as 2012. The straws sell for $20 each on Amazon, so you probably won’t be seeing them in your neighborhood pizza shop any time soon. But true environmentalists will feel good about every sip because the company donates a percent of its profits to environmental causes.

Several manufacturers are selling variations on titanium and stainless steel straws. Some even come with their own colorful carry bags and you can buy silicone tips to keep the drinking side sanitary. 

We’re far from the last straw. Smart innovators will develop and profit from the ban before it goes into effect. 

And here’s more good news…you can still get that thrill of shooting the paper at your fellow diners. Eco-Products makes a line of straws from corn plastic–and they have environmentally-friendly paper wrappers.

This is the 1 Critical Thing You Should Do Before Any Job Interview

When going after a new career opportunity, there are plenty of steps you need to take (there’s a reason they say that getting a new job is a job unto itself!)

Assessing your market value, finding jobs that meet your desired salary range), and of course, networking should all be part of the build-up to landing a big job interview. And regardless of the role you’re pursuing, as soon as you get called in, there’s one role you need to take on: Chief Research Officer.

Only two percent of applicants get interviews, so if you’re lucky enough to get that far, don’t blow it by skipping your homework. With the amount of information available online about just about everywhere you’re sending a resume, there’s no excuse not to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ins and outs of both the company where you’re interviewing and the interviewer herself.

Start with the company website, but don’t end there. A quick Google News search can give you the most up to date happenings of a business, and give you some informed talking points for your interview (along with topics to avoid).

A company’s social media channels and blog will also give you the latest internal news, a glimpse of what’s top of mind, and insight to the brand’s voice (plus, following their social channels can’t hurt in terms of brownie points). From all of this research, jot down a few questions you can ask when you’re put on the spot at the end of the interview that showcase that you’ve done your homework.

Sure, this next step may qualify you as a certified lurker, but you can also peek into your interviewer’s social channels to get an idea of their personality and interests. LinkedIn is the least creepy version of this “personality audit” (though, beware if they have Premium they’ll know you’ve been trawling them), and can also give you the opportunity to suss out any first degree connections that might put in a good word for you.

You’ll get some more personal insights on Instagram and Facebook, but just be careful to avoid the dreaded “deep like” (or any like, really) if you don’t want your cyberstalking known. Remember that all of this is on background: It will definitely creep your interviewer out if you ask her about her niece’s birthday party this past weekend.

This online research is about more than just impressing your potential employer, though–it’s about sussing out the company culture to assess if it’s a good fit for you. Check out   Glassdoor for insights on company culture from current and former employees. While one disgruntled rant shouldn’t turn you away, a consistent thread of negative reviews can be a red flag.

And remember that digital research can go both ways: your potential employer (and co-workers!) will inevitably use the same techniques on you the moment your resume lands on their desks. While you’re polishing your resume, give your LinkedIn and social channels a good scrub as well.

Etsy Is Charging a 5 Percent Fee on Sales and Shipping Fees. Here’s How to Offset It

I’ve been an Etsy seller for over two years selling everything from funny mugs to whimsical yoga mats. My Etsy shop has been a great source of extra income and has been an incredible distribution channel. As of July 16th, Etsy will charge a 5 percent fee on all product sales and shipping fees. Though I love the platform, when I saw their fees will rise from 3.5 percent to 5 percent, I groaned in unison with many Etsy shopkeeps.

Taking a deeper dive into why Etsy chose to raise fees, I learned that they plan to use a portion of the extra funds to build a more robust marketing program. The new program will allocate more funds toward customer service making the Etsy experience better for both the buyer and the seller. For Etsy to remain competitive in a saturated digital world, extra funds spent on customer service will help their platform remain competitive among e-commerce giants including Ebay and Amazon.  

Though the increase may be necessary, it’s also left many sellers scratching their head wondering what to do next. Here are three things you can do to offset the new 1.5% fee and remain a competitive seller on Etsy.

1. Increase your prices to remain profitable.

When I first started my Etsy shop, I was shocked when tax time came around–I had been losing money on a few products after taking into account seller fees and taxes. I slowly started to increase my prices to reflect the time and effort I put into producing each item. Surprisingly, I found my sales numbers unfazed. Initially, I thought the price increase would deter customers but after marking up my items more than 30%, I’m happy to report that sales have only increased.
Like Etsy, you also have the opportunity to also increase your prices if you so choose. Use the fee raise as an opportunity to figure out your break even point and how many units you need to sell to meet your goals. Scared of what your customers might think of an increase? One easy way to get feedback on product pricing is to simply post the product to your personal Facebook or Instagram and say “How much would you buy this for?” The answers might surprise you.

2. Reevaluate your shipping cost sand see where else you can cut costs.

A 5 percent fee on all shipping transactions can quickly add up. Take a look at how you’ve set your shipping rates and increase your prices to take into account the 5 percent fee. “Many sellers don’t make a profit on shipping .” says Susan Shapiro of Etsy shop Susabellas. “Re-evaluate your current shipping service. Website likes Stamps.com can show you the lowest shipping rate possible and Etsy also offer commercial based pricing with USPS. You can save anywhere from 5-39 percent on certain services.  By switching shipping providers you may be able to save much more than the new 5 percent fee.”

Not only can you use Etsy’s fee raise as an opportunity to evaluate your pricing, but also your business practices. From your packaging to product materials, there may be a more inexpensive supplier that could help you lower your production costs.

3. Work on your marketing and SEO to sell more.

Even with Etsy’s new fee structure you still have the opportunity to become even more profitable than before. A 1.5 percent fee can quickly be offset by selling just a few more units per month depending on your margins. Invest time experimenting with ads and double down on your social marketing efforts.

Spend a couple of hours this weekend optimizing your listings. From optimizing your tags to taking better photos, a few small tweaks could pay dividends for you in the coming months. Generating more profit can quickly help you compensate for the new fees. 
Though a fee raise is never fun, you have the power to also change your business to reflect the changes. Grab a calculator and get to work restructuring your own prices and business practices.

Dunkin’ Donuts Causes Outrage With a Staggeringly Distasteful Approach to Customer Service

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

How many weeks since we had the joy of watching a Manhattan lawyer yelling at and threatening staff in a deli, just because they happened to speak to each other in Spanish?

Well, here we have a Dunkin’ Donuts that might have rewarded that lawyer.

You see, a Baltimore branch of the chain featured a sign near the counter.

It made for fascinating reading:

If you hear any of our staff SHOUTING in a language other than ENGLISH Please call 443-415-7775 immediately with the name of the employee to receive a coupon for FREE Coffee and a pastry.

Ah. Oh.

So it’s OK for staff to shout in English, but not, say, in Spanish? Or Polish? How about Welsh?

What about English with a heavy Scottish accent? 

And what if the customer is from abroad and doesn’t realize that Baltimore-accented English is, in fact, English?

Then there’s the whole business of shouting versus speaking.

Dunkin’ Donuts can be a noisy place. What if someone is speaking loudly because they want to be heard and somebody — perhaps clutching a Noise Level Meter — deems this shouting?

The sign was first spotted by WBAL-TV producer Gillian Morley, who posted it to Twitter

Some might think that a general manager of anything who’d think this even vaguely sensible ought not to be a general manager of anything.

Still, I asked the corporate Dunkins what they thought of it.

A spokeswoman for the chain replied: 

Dunkin’ Donuts and our franchisees share the goal of creating a welcoming and hospitable environment for all guests. The franchise owner has informed us that the sign was posted by their general manager based on her own personal judgment to ensure those standards are being met. While her intent was to address a customer service and satisfaction issue, the franchisee determined her approach was inappropriate and confirmed the sign has been removed. 

How many customers would be satisfied to see such a sign, especially in our racially troubled times?

How could it possibly be welcoming and hospitable if guests are encouraged to snitch on staff — and, who knows, get them fired — for the blessed reward of a free coffee and pastry?

What sort of hospitality would staff be willing to offer if they know their boss wants customers to spy on them?

I asked Dunkin’ Donuts for the corporate view of the sign itself and this approach to customer service. Sadly, I didn’t get a reply. Or a free coffee and pastry.

Who knows what the full backstory to this might be?

But whatever issue you might have with your staff, co-opting customers suggests that you’ve lost that managing feeling.

Yes, a franchisee can determine the environment presented in their store. It’s the job of management — not customers — to ensure that happens.

Sometimes, too, the corporate controllers can admit when a local store has it wrong.

This happened in the case of Starbucks, with an infamous incident in Philadelphia that led to a complete policy change as to the use of bathrooms.

But this sign seems so devoid of basic humanity that it might make one or two people bow their heads and weep.

How Often You Should Post on Social Media, According to 10 Studies

When it comes to determining the optimal frequency for posting on social media, even the industry giants can’t seem to be able to come to a consensus. One publication or study will tell you to post three times per day and the next will tell you 20. Lucky for everyone though, data doesn’t lie, and CoSchedule (a social media pre-scheduling tool) crunched the numbers from 10 data-driven studies to put an end to the debate once and for all.

According to the company’s research, here’s how often you should be publishing on each of the major social media platforms on a daily basis:

  • Facebook: 1 post per day
  • Twitter: 15 Tweets per day
  • Pinterest: 11 Pins per day
  • LinkedIn: 1 post per day
  • Instagram: 1-2 posts per day

Notice something about these numbers? They’re pretty darn high. The cold hard truth about social media marketing is it’s going to take a great deal of leg work to build up an actively engaged audience and become a thought leader in your niche. 

That being said, no need to get overwhelmed just yet. There are ways to unpack this information and apply it without losing your mind. Here’s where to start.

1. Hone in on email marketing and a couple of social media platforms.

Unlike social media platforms that come and go year after year, email addresses are relatively unchanging. By zeroing in on one or two social media channels along with email marketing, not only will you save yourself from the headaches of posting a thousand times per day, you’ll also set yourself up for future success by investing in a medium unlikely to change any time soon.

Additionally, many entrepreneurs out there may not have the financial resources to allocate to a team or agency that posts on all major social media channels every single day. Handling one or two social media platforms is a reasonable request that won’t take too much time away from running your actual business.

2. Quality over everything.

Simply “going through the motions” on social media won’t necessarily lead to results, so thinking of social media as a checklist is a dangerous mindset to have. Quality, in-depth content beats mediocre, high-volume content any day of the week.

However, people often misinterpret this advice as an excuse to put off creating social media content in the first place. You still have to put in the work and use the recommendations above as your guide, but if you know for a fact you’ll only be able to publish three high-quality Tweets per day, it’s better to do that than posting 15 lackluster, spammy Tweets.

3. Use a pre-scheduling tool.

There are a number of apps out there that allow you to pre-schedule all your social media content from one dashboard: Hootsuite, Buffer, MeetEdgar, Agorapulse, CoSchedule and more. Choose one, block out a chunk of time on Sundays or in the evenings to create your content, and let the tool take care of the rest. This way, you’ll only have to worry about responding to comments.

4. Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose.

Developing a sound, efficient repurposing strategy is absolutely crucial to social media success. For starters, I recommend reading a piece I wrote covering Chalene Johnson’s repurposing strategy, where her team creates hundreds of social posts from a single Facebook Live video.

Begin by determining what your core piece of content will be (a YouTube video, a Medium post, etc.), then get creative on ways to make content for each of the social channels you’re active on. For example, if you wrote a Medium post, create dozens of Tweets with quotes from your post that drive traffic to your original article. Then, create infographics on Pinterest using Canva covering the content of your blog post, word art quotes on Instagram and more.

From developing a solid strategy to content planning to crafting high quality content, social media marketing is already tough enough, so don’t let posting frequency add to that list. Use this data as a blueprint to take your social media presence to the next level. Best of luck.

Anthony Bourdain Was a Living Lesson for Entrepreneurs on the Power of Passion

When I heard about Anthony Bourdain‘s suicide, I wept. He was an inspiration–a fierce, fearless spirit for whom food was the gateway drug to his bigger addictions: culture, pleasure, and whatever lay around the next corner. He was a conduit for humanity, in all our rough-edged and unpredictable glory. 

He tore into our hearts with his world-weary grin, intolerance for B.S., and ferocious passion for storytelling that exposed truths no one else cared to tell but we all wanted to hear.   

But what I loved most was that he was a leader. He proved that work can be, and should be, both what you do and who you are, and that it can reflect both your personal heart of darkness and your highest aspirations. It’s fitting that Bourdain started as a chef, because he believed in creating on the fly, getting messy and savoring every last soupcon of adventure and beauty from lunch on a Vietnamese river barge or the street life of a gentrifying corner of Brooklyn.

I’ve idolized everything he’s ever written (Kitchen Confidential is a must read) and devoured every episode of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. He was a stand out voice against a backdrop of mediocrity. I’ll miss him terribly.

He left behind some incredible lessons for entrepreneurs. These are the three that speak most loudly to me:

Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.

Bourdain talked a great deal about a harrowing boat trip through the Congo and how often he wanted to turn back. But he kept pushing, compelled to see it through to the end. At some point, building a business or a brand becomes nightmare that tests us beyond our limits. That’s when we have to channel Anthony and accept that the adventure and the test are the reward. We don’t just love our companies for what they give us, but for how they change us.

Stake out a point of view.

Bourdain was unapologetically clear in his view of both food and the world. He wasn’t interested in being a grinning kitchen robot; he cared about what he cared about and didn’t give a damn if you approved. That authentic passion made him impossible to ignore. If you want your business to stand out, forget what the customer wants and do what sets you on fire.

See possibility where others see boundaries.

In a letter to Matt Goulding, his partner at Roads Kingdom, Bourdain wrote, “I do not doubt — in fact I know and have experienced — delicious new takes on pizza, even that beloved carbonara. It is possible. It is, I guess, only right, that new generations of Italian chefs are flexing their creative minds and their skills in the interest of moving things forward.” Great leaders don’t see walls — they see possiblity. You should always strive to push toward the extraordinary, even if they have to knock down walls to do it.

I’ll leave you with a Bourdain quote that sums him up: “I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos.””

Vaya con dios, Anthony.

Does Your Customer Experience Make Customers Feel Stupid? Here’s How To Make Them Feel Smarter

The businesses that are best loved by customers tend to be ones that make them feel smart, competent, in control. This comes about thanks to thoughtful (read: easy to use) design choices, thoughtful hiring and training of employees, and other deployment of human effort, engagement, and judgment to make things easy for a customer-and difficult for a customer to make a mistake or suffer embarrassment.

Or the elevation of a customer’s feeling of intelligence can be achieved through proper deployment of technology. Think of how a service like Gmail makes the user feel smart: warning the user if they’ve failed to include an attachment in spite of writing “attached is…”; helping the user to “remember” email addresses they may want to include in the cc field; intelligently suggesting which of several similar-sounding email addresses is likely the one to include in a particular context; and, even better, suggesting a correction when you are about to mistakenly cc Bob X instead of Bob Y, where Bob Y is more likely the one you intended to copy in this particular context.          

Getting even more high-tech, the proper use of artificial intelligence (AI) can both make customers feel smart and, according to Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies at LogMeIn, do the same for the (human) agents supporting those customers. “AI such as our Bold360ai solution,” says Lester, “can make both the customer and the agent feel better-informed and closer to the solution; it can give customers the power to self-serve where they see fit, as well as, alternatively or in addition, provide agents with AI-powered insights to offer a seamless, efficient and customized experience when a human touch needed.” [Disclosure: I have done professional work for LogMeIn.] And according to Raj Singh, CEO of GoMoment, an AI company deploying a specialized version of IBM Watson technology, “As I see it, the very idea of AI, in a customer experience context, is to make the customer feel empowered; while some companies may fool around with AI for AI’s sake, that’s the opposite of the customer-friendly approach that’s called for.”

*****

To hammer home the importance of this, I want to spend a minute looking at the times when a customer experience is designed to make a customer feel stupid. Let me share a particularly mortifying example to bring the subject vividly in focus.

I once spent an agonized half hour on the beach at a Five Star resort, trying to figure out if the sliding doors in front of me actually led back into my hotel room. 

Sounds dumb, right? Maybe it sounds like I’m dumb because I should have put out bread crumbs or stones to guide my pathway back.

But here’s the thing: At the time I agreed with you (hypothetical you); the problem was due to my own stupidity, clumsiness, or failure to plan.  But I don’t anymore.  What made me as the customer (guest) feel dumb was an unfortunate, even inhumane, design choice on the part of the hotel. The architect or outfitter thought it would look more sleek or homelike to omit room numbers above the sliding doors that faced the beach.  Leading to five essentially identical options for me to pick from, meaning chances I’d pick the wrong one and happen upon my neighbors in a state, potentially, of romantic engagement and undress. 

In many other ways, businesses make customers feel stupid.  Continuing with less dramatic examples from hotels, there are light switches in unexpected places, impossible-to-find plug locations, inexplicably translucent doors between toilet and sleeping area, heating and cooling systems that are too complex to be managed (at least in the face of jetlag), minibars priced to make you feel like a sucker, and on and on.  

Outside of the hotel environment, here are other ways businesses, perhaps including yours, do the same: they make customers feel stupid: 

•  Bad directional signage: a hassle for able-bodied customers, and a complete disaster for visitors with disabilities.

•  Inscrutable jargon, like the use of the 19th-century term “placards” in the required FAA in-flight safety script.

•  Stupid Stuff: requiring customers to contact you for the answers to questions that should be answered on a self-service basis, whether through your website’s FAQs or other means (See my article here for more on this)

• Thoughtlessness: Asking an obviously-solo diner the ugly question,  “only one?” or calling an obviously advanced-in-age woman “young lady.”

If you’re making any of these mistakes at your business, or if you’re not sure whether you are or aren’t, it’s time to take stock, before you drive any more customers away.