I Started This Blog Post Today

Okay, a little bit of a rant today. I have wanted to get this off my chest for a couple years now.

Who decided that greeting customers with “What can I get started for you today?” was a good idea? To my mind it doesn’t build a relationship with the customer and in fact undermines the customer’s confidence that the interaction will end satisfactorily.

When I was first greeted with that phrase in a local, independently owned coffee shop, my first unconscious thought was, “Are you not going to finish my order?”  I had the same thought on every subsequent visit and it created a sense of unease in me. But I knew the guy who started the shop so I thought maybe he had read about using the phrase in some management text and while I thought it was something of a miscue, it didn’t really bother me too much. Except that there were times that they did indeed mess up my order and that of my colleagues and it caused me to pay closer attention to my transactions going forward. Moreso than other places I chose to eat.

Then I started hearing the “What can I get started…” in other food service encounters and it definitely undermined my faith that they would get my order correct. Especially in those places where your food is subjected to an assembly line process where the person who you communicate your order to is indeed only starting it, use of the phrase only draws additional attention to the likelihood that things may not be completed correctly. Not only do other people often substitute in for the person to whom you rattled off your request,  the person at the end of the line doesn’t even know what you ordered and has to ask you.

Now, in an environment where places have signs up begging your patience because the location is understaffed, the lack of confidence is compounded.

So I am just bewildered about how this phrase became so commonplace that corporate chains and independently owned shops think there is some benefit to using it.

When stores call their customers guests and the employees team members, it is pretty transparently a superficial effort that doesn’t fool anyone, but at least you understand that the attempt is to make customers and employees feel special. I don’t understand the point behind the “what can I get started…” phrase.

I wonder if it might be a matter of a slogan by committee or the highest paid person in the room flexing their influence.

I sort of wondered the same thing about slogans on the Amazon delivery vans.


They have messaging that promises low prices and fast delivery, but it evokes a bit of shared culture pre-dating the internet that has entered the collective consciousness. It utilizes slightly different wording each time, but gives you the option of cheap, fast, and quality, saying you can only pick two. So every time I see one of those vans, I feel like it is basically saying I can get it fast and cheap, but the product is going to be crappy quality.

I can only think that Amazon chose to evoke that meme idea due to marketing by committee or some boss thew their weight around.


Where Have All The Pledge Drive Guests Gone?

I have been listening to the pledge drive for the statewide public radio network the last couple weeks and been thinking nostalgically about my time living in Hawaii when I was a regular guest during the semi-annual drives. It was a minor point of pride feeling that I had worked my way up from being a guest an a 4:00 pm Saturday show to a midweek lunch time slot. I can’t say for sure if my clever patter as responsible for being asked to guest at seemingly more “visible” time slots, but there were times when I would finish up one slot and be asked to move to another room to appear on the second program stream.

But it doesn’t seem like public radio stations do this sort of thing any more. Having worked for organizations that depended heavily on volunteer labor, I can completely understand that it can take a lot of staff hours to schedule guests in dozens of slots across a two week period. That is in addition to the numbers you need to cover phones. With the increased move to online donating, I am not even sure if many stations need volunteers to cover phones any more. It used to be that you would hear acknowledgements of restaurants that donated food for the volunteers. I haven’t heard those in many year which means either there aren’t a lot of volunteers to feed or the stations are paying for the food directly now.

In any case, what I think has been lost by eliminating community guests from fundraising is the opportunity to provide social proof.

For the last few years, theaters like mine have worked to increase the number of audience photos on our websites and publications to show who is attending performances and the enjoyable experience they are having. I have frequently mentioned that people feel more comfortable participating in a cultural experience when they see themselves and their stories depicted.

There is a pretty distinct impression of who public radio is for. Even though the names of correspondents represent some pretty diverse backgrounds as do the stories being told, the voices telling the stories continue to cleave rather closely to the stereotypical “public radio voice.” Some of the podcasts associated with public radio diverge a little from the “voice,” but not many and few podcasts are part of the main programming stream.

In addition to adding some vocal variety in the programming, returning to having community guests on the pledge drives can provide the social proof about who values the stations and their programming. Obviously, choosing who the guests will be requires some strategy. My recollection from the past was that there were always a lot of lawyers on. That might not be the image of who the stations are for that they want to project. As much as I enjoyed the experience, maybe I am no longer the right person to be a guest any longer.

As much as I am citing the example of public radio here, I am basically using this particular situation to approach the importance of all cultural organizations providing visible social proof from a different angle.

Adding A Throwaway Option Can Solidify Decisions

Many arts organizations are seeing a drop in ticket sales and subscriptions this year which got me to thinking about a TED talk Dan Ariely did about how unwanted options helped helped people make a decisions, in some case spending more than the cheapest option.  I had done a post about it some years ago and thought about how it might be applicable to subscriptions.

Offer people options that don’t have value to nudge them toward purchasing more a bigger subscription package than they might have. I don’t know that it would transform a lot of single ticket buyers into subscription buyers unless we are wrong about flexibility being more important than price. A mini-subscription that offered flexibility and appeared to be a great value might have some success in getting single ticket purchasers to commit.

I also wonder if offering non-premium options with your show helps make them look more attractive than your competitors’. Ariely talks about another experiment where they offered people the option of an all-inclusive trip to Rome or Paris. In this case it is really apples and oranges since the two cities are in different countries have have so many different attributes to value. Once they add the option of going to Rome but having to pay for coffee in the morning, suddenly people preferred [all-inclusive] Rome over Paris by a larger degree due to the lesser option being available.

It doesn’t seem logical to me to think that given the option between the symphony and a free cocktail at intermission and the opera and a free cocktail at intermission, that people would flock to the orchestra if a no cocktail option for the same price was offered. But as Ariely points, out the decision being made are not entirely rational.

Creative Expression Is A Renewable National Resource

Countries around the world are eyeing the success of South Korea’s K-Pop, and Japan’s earlier J-Pop, and are developing national music strategies of their own according to a recent Forbes article. Thailand and Zimbabwe are prominently mentioned, but similar efforts are also being seen in Dominica, China, Oman, Philippines and Belize.

A big driver is the perceived ability of these efforts to boost GDP, create jobs, and generate a positive image of the countries’ culture, geography and products.  The article notes that South Korea embarked on their national effort after they had to go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan and it took nearly 15 years before K-Pop fandom became a mainstream interest worldwide. Thus a national initiative of this type needs long term commitment which is likely to span multiple government administrations.

Likewise, the K-Pop system of artist development is attuned to the unique structure of South Korean cultural and business dynamics which probably can’t and shouldn’t be replicated in other countries.

One of the things the author points out is that the creative economy is a renewable resource for countries in that the potential is limitless as long as people are encouraged to exercise their creativity. This may be something of a selling point when discussing the value of arts and culture to the community. While I dislike validating arts and culture on a economic and prescriptive basis, reinforcing the need to preserve the environment is important messaging.

What is being celebrated now may not be a model that works everywhere, but it demonstrates what could be true anywhere – that there is economic and social potential in music and culture and with it, the benefits of soft power and positive national branding. As countries and regions look to establish economic recovery policies and create socially sustainable economies which extract less from our environment, music and culture is recognised as a viable path. The raw materials are extracted from our minds, not the ground. And the options are limitless. This is something to celebrate, as there will never be ‘peak’ music, unlike what we’re facing with peak oil.

One little disclaimer that may be needed. I hadn’t initially noticed, but this article is written by the founder of Sound Diplomacy, an organization that works on developing music based economies of communities around the world. They are currently working on such a project here in Macon, GA and I have participated in some of their focus groups.