Small Business Service With Groupon

Groupon is enduring some well-deserved criticism this week for its edgy Super Bowl commercial featuring actor Timothy Hutton that made light of Tibet’s struggles with China.  American consumers overwhelmingly rejected the ad while continuing to use the service (herein called The GoDaddy Effect) and the company best known for being the startup that earlier spurned $6 billion of Google’s money created another head-scratching moment.

But what impact does this company have on a small business, maybe your small business, when one of those 50% offers launches?

Almost all Groupon customers ask for a second promotion according to a video on the company’s website.   Local merchants now receive mobile applications, free marketing copywriters and tools like a capacity planner. But business owners often go online to complain about margins or are cautioned about exceeding capacity and cutting into margin.   WebProNews did a splendid piece about Groupon tackling the capacity issue head-on and suggested that Groupon should be able to help a small business plan for lots of new customers.

Capacity was the issue I experienced with local merchants.  The worst was a camera store with an offer that swayed me to convert some old film to DVD .  My son picked up the order and paid with the Groupon, which was about $6 more than the cost.  The cashier did not offer a store credit or offer to sell a second conversion an apply a $6 credit.  Nearly half of the $15 savings evaporated so I called the store.

Pause and reflect.

Groupon brought me in when I wouldn’t have looked around for that old birthday party footage.  Then the store had a chance to wow me with their services anf pick up a second conversion plus who knows how many more future orders?

Instead the clerk said no.  The manager went further, telling me that “Not everything is free just because you have Groupon”.  Those frustrated line staff comments are common on web complaint boards.  But now I had a mission so I called the small chain’s headquarters and was told there was no customer service department and “these questions”  were best handled at the store level.  But now I was more focused on the store manager’s attitude and I ended up in the voice mail of someone in store operations.  That person never called back even after a second message was left.

So the fallout for the store is even worse.  Now I’m not only dissatisfied, but when someone comments on the DVD, I tell them to buy online because the local chain has “awful service”.

That is the essence of a merchant’s Groupon dilemma.  The company says all will be well if the merchant is “honest” about their ability to handle big volumes and convert casual consumers to long-term customers.  Your takeaway as a small business leader is to think strategically, not about cash flow or other tactical matters, when considering any coupon service. If you don’t have an upselling, customer-centric culture and your business has tight margins, inviting a horde of discount-loving customers who have no loyalty to your business is an ineffective strategy.

Source:  ”“,, 1/26/2011
Source:  ”Hey, Ellen, Should We Do Groupon?” Restaurant Intelligence, 9/18/2009
Source: “Groupon Talks Managing Capacity…“, Web Pro News, 1/17/2011
Source: “Groupon Rejects $6 Billion Offer From Google“, MSNBC, 12/4/2010
Image:  Eugene Peretz via CC 2.0

Is There A Fiery Flight Attendant On Your Staff?

Stress.  Worker burnout.  Customer service rage.

All of these may have triggered JetBlue’s Steve Salter to scream profanities at his company’s customers, illegally deploy the aircraft’s emergency chute and run away.

In a world rocked by inflation, wars and sociological changes brought on by increasingly fast technology shifts, Salter hit a raw nerve with folks, especially online.  Alternately lauded as a hero for some previously sated proletariat or the expression of rage for service professionals, Salter is neither.

Worse, his crimes were not victimless.

He damaged the people who own JetBlue stock.  That might be you or your loved ones if you look carefully at your retirement plans and other savings.  He damaged the JetBlue brand and thousands of employees and their families.  And he created an unsafe ramp-area environment for JFK employees on the ground. Peter Finch played a character having a meltdown in Network (clip below NSFW)

But Salter is not Finch’s Howard Beale nor is a hero.   He is a burned out employee who created an international sensation by flaming out in a highly visible way.
I’ve had two Salters in  my career leading people.  Both screamed obscenities–one at a customer and one at her manager in front of dozens of people.   Many might think their situations warranted drastic action and been inclined to forgive them.

They were wrong, just as this flight attendant was wrong


As the person leading them, I was more wrong.

There had already been conversations in one of the instances I related where the manager and I had discussed the employee’s growing resentment of him and the firm.  We saw the burnout signs and tried to muddle by.  In the other instance, I was a young manager and knew in my heart of hearts that the person didn’t belong anywhere near customers.  This employee didn’t care about the company, co-workers or customers.  With just a little more seasoning, I would have taken action before she screamed at a client in a retention-driven business and slammed the phone down.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is that you already know where your potential employee issues loom and you need to act now.

Some will undoubtedly take everyone, including you, by surprise.  But if you are compromising now and there isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime emergency situation in your organization, you must act fast before your employee blows and slides down your company’s emergency chute.

Action can be anything from time off to different schedules or job assignments to termination.  But if you know today that the employee is at risk, and you are not actively working to protect your organization, their failure is yours.

Be Honest About The Rules – Communicating Bad News #1

Big Thinking is kicking off a series about How To Communicate Bad News because we see too many partners, clients and friends often miss the mark and make bad situations worse.

There are apparently not enough distractions here so Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole jumped on their laptops

There are apparently not enough distractions here so Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole jumped on their laptops

The first guideline we’ll share is straight out of today’s headlines:  Be Honest About The Rules.  There is an incalculably multiplier if you break the rules, your actions cause problems and you are not immediately forthright with every possible stakeholder fast. Lightning fast.  Greased lightning fast.   So fast that you may not have a solution yet, but you’ve already assured people you are resolving the matter right now.

The problem may be as basic as a spreadsheet error that only becomes a broken rule if you cover up the mistake.  Or the problem could be as specific as flying a jet with more than 100 passengers for more than an hour past your destination.  The comments the cockpit crew made puzzled everyone.   The federal government announced today that the flight crew claimed they were using laptop computers in the cockpit, were distracted and ignored radio calls and other signals.

If their story is true and they were looking at new schedules resulting from their merger, they have hopefully handed over their untampered with computers and will face whatever disciplinary action occurs when you don’t do your job and fly 160,000 pounds of plane on top of thousands of gallons of jet fuel.   But Timothy Chaney and Richard Cole blew their chances for problems by releasing cagey statements since Thursday.  Only today, on the fifth day, have federal investigators released a statement about the events that caused Chaney and Cole to operate their plane in the way they did.

Imagine two headlines.

One reads, “Pilots Reprimanded, Suspended for Using PC In Flight

The other reads, “Government Investigators Uncover Truth About Stray Jet

Continue reading

Redskins Shatter Implied Promises, But What About Your Business?

Not all promises are explicit.   Sure, if a small business says they’ll provide a service for $100 and either doesn’t provide the service or charges more, trust takes a hit.

Prize winning reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

Reporter James Grimaldi broke story on Washington Redskins

But there are implied promises every business makes every day.  At Silver Beacon, we promise each client that we are going to stay on top of online marketing trends, notify them when their business could be impacted and maximize the return on their advertising dollar.   If I visit a client tomorrow who asks about Bing and I think he’s talking about Bing Crosby, we would have broken our implied promise.

Implied promises are getting a workout here in Washington where the city’s beloved Redskins claim to have a season ticket waiting list that stretches tens of thousands of names to along with decades of sold out games, including in what is now the NFL’s largest stadium.  Great reporting by The Washington Post‘s James Grimaldi, a reporter with a passel of awards including a shared Pultizer Prize, uncovered a broken implied promise.

The Redskins — who are still the number one topic of sports conversation in this town when they’re not playing — sold tickets to ticket broker StubHub instead of whittling down the list of fans willing to shell out thousands for tickets and endure hours of snarled traffic.   The Redskins made no promises.  But they’ve broken an implied promise.   Just like we vow to keep the best interests of our clients in the forefront, the Redskins’ implied promise was to take care of its most ardent fans who were willing to prove their loyalty with money.

Unpopular owner Daniel M. Snyder now faces a public relations crisis as his team takes the field tonight in its final preseason game.   The blowback on larger than life figures like sports team owners is huge.  Snyder needed no fake scarcity to drive his team’s popularity.  The Redskins were locked and loaded for decades of financial growth.

And once **a promise like this is broken, everyone can opine, even in a small business blog.

For his part, Grimaldi’s followup was a knockout PR blow in today’s paper where he reports that during the recession, the same business that broke implied promises to its fans have filed 137 lawsuits against multiyear ticket holders who could no longer make payments.  Sure, there was a promise to pay and people get sued when they don’t honor those promises.  The Post’s reporting has uncovered that those seats were then sold to ticket brokers as well.

Today, not tomorrow, but today:   take 15 minutes while you gobble your lunch at your desk like the hectic small businessperson you are and start scribbling on a notepad.   You’re answering this question:

What implied promises have I made to my customers, my employees and to my equity holders? Include yourself as an equity holder because like any small business leader, you’ve been making promises to yourself for a long time.

Then come back here and post your findings.  You don’t have to share what you’ve learned only how well the exercise worked for you and any changes you’ll be making.

Calling Your Customers Names and Hoping To Succeed

William Shatner as Captain James T.
Image via Wikipedia

Star Trek fans still bristle when reminded of William Shatner‘s infamous “get a life” line during a Saturday Night Live skit about the show’s legendary followers.  The actor, who has now appeared in multiple hit series in multiple decades, was accused of turning his back on the ardent fans who propelled his Captain Kirk to iconic status.

Now consider your own business.  Imagine that the local newspaper has come to you and said that a letter to the editor in that very same paper criticized your business.   “Idiotic letter writers,” you blast to the reporter.   “People who write letters to the paper are lunatics!”

Can’t see yourself saying that?   Think you might lose a customer or two?

Well, that’s what Ryanair managed to pull off this week.  In a time when Congressional members were using their smart phones to Twitter and live-blog President Obama’s first major speech since taking office, joining 100 million other bloggers, Ryanair officially commented on the company’s view of bloggers:

It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel

This statement to CNN came after three different Ryanair employees reportedly criticized Jason Roe, an Irish web developer.

The above statement to the global news network was reportedly made by Ryanair’s Stephen McNamara, a spokesperson who if the quote is correct, was absent the day Marketing 101 commenced.

100 million plus bloggers active at any time.   Ryanair has hit a wormhole of public relations disaster so deep that not even Captain Kirk can save their ship.  Media expert Nick Peters at CommCore, the company I trust to help before media disasters like this strike, told me within minutes this morning that Ryanair could see a backlash similar to the one that led to the outster of JetBlue founder David Neeleman.

And a final thought.   If you ever find yourself having contempt for a big segment of your customer base, do yourself a favor and stop serving that base.  Life is too short.

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Finding Reporters Looking For You – Fast Friday Fact

Multiple people introduced me to Peter Shankman’s “Help A Reporter Out” (aka HARO) site and email list.  Now I’m doing the same for you because I send a client or a friend a lead from this list’s 40-60 daily requests each day.

Shankman, a PR expert, has built the list in 23,000 addresses and many of them appear actively engaged.  The main issue is to follow the rules, much like Fight Club.  I won’t repeat those rules here.   Pay attention to what the reporter wants and how they expect the information to be sent.   Enjoy Shankman’s witty introductions, and if you’re on Twitter, follow him there as @skydiver to learn about urgent requests.

A mix of blogs and major mainstream media make use of the service and if your expertise or experience matches their need, you can score some major publicity for your business.

Protecting Your Online Reputation

Online marketers began talking about online reputation management (ORM) a few years ago.  As a small businessperson, you’ve undoubtedly thought about the concept, but perhaps not the term.

Online reputation is simply the items throughout the Internet that people find when they research you or your company.  I had the pleasure of interviewing online reputation guru Andy Beal earlier this year upon the publication of Radically Transparent.

The key takeaway about reputation management is that you can be blindsided by something that occurred in the past — even before the Internet was popular.  As Andy said when we spoke

It’s not just what you happen to put online today. One example is we’re seeing newspapers – The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal - opening up their archives so that content previously behind a user name and password is now available on the web. We see a lot of instances where people were written about negatively in mainstream media and that was buried deep in the archives and you had to be a user to find it. Now as we see those media companies open their archives to the web, it’s starting to bubble up to the top of Google’s results. It’s really understanding that any action you have could have a future repercussion.

I have personally experienced that interesting event when music files I had created in my 20s and uploaded to small sites were part of a restoration effort from some hardcore hobbyists.   These were Commodore 64 days when we had 3 tones to play with and constructed the tone by actually building the sound wave in a line of code.  They don’t sound very good today, but we were thrilled then.

The music is a benign, geeky event, but underscores Beal’s words.  The past will surface on the web, and you better be ready for it.  Radically Transparent is a great read and offers plans on how to repair or burnish your online reputation.  We have also become an affiliate of the Trackur service that resulted from  the research in this book.

I was an early adoptee of the product and for about the price of a soda each day, I get a sophisticated system that automatically checks the web for my name or my business name or any phrase and emails me.  As Small Wonders launches, we can even monitor the new blog’s name and see how many people are referencing the site — good or bad!

Knowing the good and bad is what makes online reputation management so important.   I believe everyone should have an account because maybe your prom date finally cut loose with some pent-up hostility, an old co-worker wrote about you or your competiton does a side-by-side comparison with your product.  You don’t have time to search the Internet every day for all of these terms.  And if you’re paying someone to do that like I did earlier in my career while gathering competitive intelligence, you’re paying them a lot more than 60 cents a day.

There are a number of reasons why Trackur is a better value than Google Alerts.  Since you can’t manage what you can’t measure, the site includes tracking and trending, live updates and many feature a free offering won’t provide.    Try the service free, and if you really don’t find value, cancel.  I’m convinced, though, that you’ll learn something new every time you look at the results.

Optimizing Media Outreach – PRWeb Webinar

Lee Odden and Jay Byrne led a terrific webinar today on the intersection of SEO and PR.  Both nailed the topic with a nice combined deck chock-full of stats.

Some juicy tidbits from Lee:

  • 64% of journalists report using either Google or Yahoo! online news services to follow the news.
  • Top Rank’s own survey showed that journalists used traditional search (if we have traditional search anymore) when searching for sources and info.  Only 27% are searching the news at that point, Lee says, which makes sense once someone actually produces numbers like that.
  • More information here about SEO and how an online newsroom should work as I hurriedly scribble notes about optimizing those newsrooms.  Great stuff.

Some nice takeaways from Jay:

  • Great data and visuals on the surface web.
  • Some 65 percent of folks have visited social networks, but 58 percent don’t know what it is (I can attest to this having lived through a client bellowing that he had never heard of LinkedIn until I sent him a PDF of his profile.)
  • Constant and spot-on reminders about using the words searchers, not your client, use.
  • And some really terrific samples of landing pages for press releases as well as formatting.

If you missed today’s ‘cast, head over to TopRank where the blog has exploded with lots of yummy info about the PRSA Conference.

Finally, if you don’t know what we’re talking about here, your key takeaway is that your organization’s PR efforts need to be optimized for the Internet.  That special blend of techniques mixes reader-friendly issues with cues and signals to search engines.   The cost to get this right is typically minor relative to the cost of the outreach, and the payoff is massive ROI.   Give it a shot if you haven’t yet, and prepare to be amazed.