I Wish I Was Going With You Approach To Customer Service

This morning I attended a brand reveal for a Marriott hotel slated to open half a block from my venue in/around January. This particular collection of hotels is highly customized to the community in which it resides so there was a lot of detail discussed in the 1.5 hours of the actual presentation.

One thing that occurred to me during the presentation was that you should only pay for brand design that you have the budget to execute. The amount of money they are going to spend executing the branding vision is going to be significant.

When the designers started talking about the brand values that would be embodied, a couple struck me as concepts to be embraced by arts and culture organizations.

One was – we are not docents, we are friends-in-the-know. The other was – we are not interested, we are invested.   These statements seemed to embody the nuanced difference between good customer service and great customer service.

If you had two people working at the front desk and they each provided the same information to guests, but there was something you couldn’t put your finger on that made one of them seem superior to the other, something akin to these two concepts are likely to be present.  The better service comes from someone who isn’t just doling out information, but makes you feel they wish they were going with you or want you to have the same great experience they had when they were there.

So now I am letting these ideas percolate in my brain as I look around at our operation and think about how that can manifest at different points in our visitor experience. (Though I suppose we shouldn’t give people the impression we wish we were accompanying them when they ask directions to the restrooms.) Of course, however we decide that should be embodied in our building should be present where ever we are representing the organization outside out facilities as well.

Let me just point out that these are not entirely new concepts. In terms of marketing, they are a variation on Trevor O’Donnell’s “Gal In Starbucks” test from six years ago that I have written on a number of times. This is something the arts and culture industry should have been working toward for a few years now at least.

Colorado And The Case Of The Hidden Salary

I have noticed Drew McManus will get me riled up about an arts administration topic and then suggests I write an Arts Hacker post about it. Last week was no exception. Last Thursday he posted about how he had gone back to requiring employers posting positions on Arts Admin Jobs to include a salary range.  He had done so because there was a growing demand among job applicants and others within the non-profit world to have salaries included.

But that Drew also noticed an editorial on the Chronicle of Philanthropy (registration required) was making waves for suggesting that omitting the salary was in everyone’s best interest. And boy did that garner a spirited response from readers.

With good reason since part of the rationale seemed to be along the lines of someone being grossly underpaid at $40,000 would be too intimidated to apply for a job more appropriately paying $120,000, so it is better to keep the salary hidden….you know, for their sake.

There is a lot more to the effort than just some opinion pieces. As I note in my Arts Hacker post, Show The Salary started in the UK and is an international effort that probably extends even further than my research turned up.

There are definitely signs that there will be immense resistance by companies and organizations to list salary ranges. While there are a number of states and municipalities which have rules against requiring or discriminating against applicants who don’t provide their current salary, only Colorado requires employers to provide salary and benefits information in their employment listings.

As a result, a number of companies who allow employees to work remotely are specifically saying Colorado residents can not apply for open positions. Nike says residents will need to move from the state before performing any work.

Since there are a significant number of positions open in the arts right now, including at the executive level, there is an opportunity to create a strong precedent and expectation of listing salary ranges. Such a simple move is likely to exert a lasting influence and shift in the general work culture among arts organizations going forward.

There is more detail about the whole topic in my Arts Hacker post so check it out.


Time To Include #ShowTheSalary In The Hiring Process


Manspreading Of Buzzwords

Apropos to Monday’s post on Jargon vs. Lingo, a link came across my social media feed yesterday featuring an interview with Anand Giridharadas by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College of London on the topic of philanthropy .

There is a moment right around the 23:00 mark where Giridharadas refers to a situation where the “…manspreading of certain languages which render native speakers in various institutions illiterate.”

Basically what he says happens is that advisors or consultants come in and start challenging practices, wielding terms like “leveraging synergies” and “boiling the ocean” to make it seem like the shorthand language you use internally to accomplish things is not sufficient to achieve success.  Giridharadas says this allows people to come in from outside and make people feel inadequate in their familiar home environment. It shifts the power dynamic by establishing their expertise while positioning natives as no longer credible.

He points out that people who have achieved relatively high levels of success in industries like education, arts and aviation don’t tend to decide this expertise can be applied to other industries, but people in the commercial business world will feel they are qualified to direct the efforts in other realms. Giridharadas specifically mentions charities, non-profits and the arts as industries often feel their commercial skillsets will transfer to.

Now none of this is to say that non-profits and the arts don’t have issues like insularity and diversity, equity and inclusion, among others that need to be fixed. But with some exceptions, the solution to these problems can be achieved with plain speech and the native jargon of the organization without the necessity of introducing buzzwords.

Mazzucato also made an interesting point about the commercial world employing a paradigm adopted from a now outdated physics worldview. She says economics finds it convenient to employ Newtonian view of equilibrium to justify a laissez-faire policy–the idea governments shouldn’t interfere because the system will self-correct. However, she notes that physics has moved on to the quantum physics model where there are higher degrees of uncertainty and randomness. These are factors probably a more appropriate paradigm for economics since individuals, social structures and behaviors do not easily conform to the predictability of an equal and opposite reaction.

To be clear, she is not saying economics should look to the quantum model to figure everything out. She just makes the point that scientific models have shifted as observations about the world have been tested and economics seemed to glom on to a convenient metaphor/model that conformed to a desired outcome.



Jigglers Were About Spending Time Together, But It Sold Alot of Jell-O

Economist Tyler Cowen had a rather extensive conversation with poet and former NEA Chair, Dana Gioia, on a plethora of topics. The one that most quickly grabbed me was right out of the gate when Cowen asks Gioia about his success at marketing Jell-O. He said it took him 2.5 years to conceptualize and then sell General Foods on Jell-o Jigglers which ended up reversing a 25 year downward trend and doubling sales overnight.

Gioia says that while General Foods was the best food company around in the 1950s, by the 1980s they were foundering because they didn’t know how to re-imagine their products. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you may remember that there were all these recipes that involved using Jell-O in intricate ways. (My family had one of their cookbooks and actually made a few.)

Gioia’s approach was to greatly simplify the use to re-imagine the product and make it relevant to consumers.

…rather than creating an elaborate recipe, which was what we were trying to sell people for 40 years, simply a way that you could add water with your kids, put it in the refrigerator and have it ready as a finger food in one hour.

…it was the way of using three times as much Jell-O for an occasion in which people would never use Jell-O, which is to make your own gummy bears. It became a mom-kid activity. We sold every box of Jell-O in the United States for several months.

When I read that, it made me think in the 1980s Gioia was basically doing what we in the arts have only just started to do recently –focus on how our product creates connection with family and friends.

Gioia also talks about how he brought a poet’s humanities based creativity to solve problems for a disciplined, data-driven corporation:

I was a poet, but I needed a job, so, I went to business school, I got an MBA, and I ended up in marketing at General Foods which is a highly analytic company with a very military organization. It was absolutely fantastic at managing existing businesses with a maximum of efficiency. What they were not good at was, in a sense, reconceptualizing a business that was in trouble, because they would simply try to do more or less of what they had done before.

…but with each promotion at General Foods, actually the particular skills I had, which was in a sense of — I’m very good at reconceptualizing things, taking a solution that people have had, breaking it apart, and creating a new solution. I essentially brought creativity that was completely in command of the numbers, if you can understand. That’s a very fairly rare combination, and I was able to transform several businesses there.

Definitely lessons in there for the arts and culture sector as they try to reconstitute and reinvent themselves in the coming years. Cowen and Gioia go on to talk about poetry, religion, opera (“What is opera except the suffering of people with high voices.”) among other things throughout the interview.

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