Could tugboats be the answer for Nashville’s Growing Healthcare Industry?


Nashville is growing at more than double the national rate and, as with any city experiencing the influx of new residents, there are issues. Sure, there’s traffic, and trust me, you can’t go anywhere in Nashville without that being brought into the conversation. However, in this case, the intersection of growth and the existing infrastructure of Nashville is good, very good. In fact, when you take into account the very strong and evolving shift in how we must do healthcare, the growth in Nashville, paired with the existing large companies, makes it a perfect place for where healthcare is headed.  We need out-of-the-box thinking (especially from Millennials) in this conversation to push this shift into being. 

Nashville is known for many things…the generous welcome to visitors who can partake in the arts, music, history, food, culture and nature which presents itself at every turn. Nashville is also known for access to higher education, having some of the nation’s best Universities within walking distance to our city center. But most important for this discussion is that Nashville has a fantastic healthcare presence. CNBC stated, ‘healthcare is a major part of the Nashville ecosystem, with a $38.8 billion impact on the regional economy in 2014.’ It is that very large presence which helps employ, and care for our growing population, which is no short order. On top of healthcare’s help sustaining the local economy it is also a major powerhouse with implications far reaching beyond our city alone, having 18 publicly traded healthcare companies operating out of the city. So that’s one piece of the puzzle and a very major factor in why Nashville is the perfect place to pivot healthcare.

As stated earlier, the next important factor, is that Nashville is growing, and the growth is most noteworthy in that it has a bit of the ‘Benjamin Button effect’. Nashville’s population is growing younger as it is growing larger. Millennials make up 25% of the US population but are over-represented in Nashville, with more Millennials present here than in the general population. This increasingly young demographic is pushing us to think and accommodate differently. Millennials are simply ‘different’ but that’s what makes Nashville a perfect place to watch what happens next in the healthcare space. This is the piece to the puzzle which makes for the perfect intersection for the future of healthcare; “healthcare” is one road. “Millennials” is the other.

The Millennial generation is a unique cohort in that they are connected to each other. They want things delivered in a way which suits them; their needs, their value perceptions and,very often, their space. They choose not to go to products, services or experiences but to have them available to themselves when and where they want. This is as far from a push economy as it gets. This is all pull, so best be ready because healthcare is in for a bumpy ride if  the powers that be don’t take note now before it’s too late to right the ship. The great news is that this generation is an incredibly innovative and forward thinking group. They are willing to put ideas out there to address their needs and desires differently than ever before. They are the engine in innovation.

Here’s where the problem of this most perfect union presents itself. The current model of healthcare is not quick enough to address this shift. It is much like a large ship, and it takes an effort to make that turn and change processes and deliverables in a way which reflects the needs of a burgeoning subset. This lack of agility is what could lead to the crumbling of the monoliths of healthcare and a significant shake-up as we adjust to the new way of moving forward in this space. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can visualize and implement change, yet still lean on the old guard. We can get what we want, how we want it, but still be able to rely on the experience and stability of the current model.

I grew up in Western New York where the waterways were ever present. There were ships aplenty coming down our rivers and traveling about the Great Lakes. It was not uncommon to see an itty bitty (comparatively speaking) tug boat tethered to a great ship in order to help them navigate the waters with a bit more ease than they themselves could muster. It is this analogy which helps shed some light on what  needs to be done and how Nashville is the perfect testing grounds, and potential model, for the new way of executing healthcare.

Innovation is key and fostered quite beautifully in the landscape of Nashville. Yet the issue is that the innovation is being done in a relative vacuum without much consideration for the existing structure in healthcare. Mind you, this is not by design.  Quite simply, validating and executing grand shifting methods of doing healthcare without the financial backing of the giants that dot the healthcare landscape makes it a bit like a tug boat without its ship. It is in this moment, the time when the Goliaths realize they need David as much as David will come to rely on the Goliaths that all could be right in the healthcare world.The ship will be turned because of the help of the tugboat which will, with far more flexibility and agility, navigate the waterway that is healthcare in and beyond 2016.

So here lies the perfect intersection. When Goliaths extend their hands and David is afforded the bandwidth to continue to innovate, we will see the shift happen faster and more effectively than if these two powers don’t meet. As it stands, when they remain staunch and ‘siloed’ little gets done, or at least gets done quickly. The ‘bigs’ are too large to affect change in the near future and the ‘littles’ often lack the funds or validation to move their innovations efficiently and effectively forward. We are in ‘that moment.’ A paradigm shift is upon us and we need to have processes in place that tether the tugboat to the barge in order to get to a more patient-centric, better, faster, more innovative way to distribute and attend to our healthcare needs. 


Communicating in the New Millennium


Strauss and Howe’s categorization of the Millennial puts the birth range from 1982-2004.

As the world spins faster and faster into the digital age, companies need to know that they are communicating with two distinctly different consumers and workers. Baby Boomers and Millennials find themselves trapped in lockdown of miscommunication. They may speak the same language, but a translator is needed to bridge the gap of understanding. Particularly in marketing to these consumers and in hiring boomers and millennials, businesses must approach each group with the care and uniqueness that sets them apart.

I’ve made it easier for you to find the distinctions that drive each generation and then how to communicate, motivate, and cooperate with these two groups of people.

baby boomers-6Baby Boomers

Born approximately between the years 1946-1964, these 52-70 year olds came into the world during a time of conflict. World WarII was barely in the rear view mirror, and many of their parents, those of our Greatest Generation, fought in that war so it was never far from conversation. The Vietnam War — a highly contested and volatile war —trailed closely behind, while the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. dominated the news. These boomers experienced social changes in women’s rights, birth control, and abortion. During their formative years, the Berlin Wall was built and the Cuban missile crisis kept them practicing drills at school.

They were also born during a time of expansion. The world saw the 1st man on the moon,
Televisions became more widespread and available to the masses, and
suburbs were created. Boomers lived during the time where the adage of work hard and reap the benefits was never more true. The economy was booming and people were living well after the war, up until the early 70’s. This set of kids saw their parents going to college and working in ‘traditional roles’ in traditional fields, for them it was unlikely their parents were entrepreneurs.

This is a generation that:

Is patient and not at all entitled – They saw their parents work for all they got, and they had those same expectations instilled in them. They were raised by the Greatest Generation who lived as though at any moment the bottom may fall out again. They were conscientious spenders and hard workers.

Had a voice – This is the generation of marchers/protesters and flower children. They saw great conflicts in their life times, and the pump was primed for them to jump in and lend a voice and a hand.

Are collaborative workers – They learned when you join forces through their marches and protests that there is more strength in numbers and that followed them into the workforce. They were happy to work as a team and leave their own interests at the door for the greater good.

Put themselves last – this generation was far from coddled as their parents were busy re-establishing their families, getting educations and making a new life for themselves. These kids were independent and were expected to step up and help the family as a whole. These kids are also the ‘sandwich generation’ – carrying for both their kids as well as their parents, this, in and of itself, left little place for ‘me’ time.

Experienced death differently and less ‘intimately’ than generations past:  Aging in America became a business during this time. While the process started in the mid-50’s to establish elderly homes it was really in the 60’s – 70’s that this business model burgeoned and started to take in great numbers of our older population. Baby Boomers watched their parents…their heros…die in homes and institutions unlike any generation prior. For example when Boomers were children they likely saw their parents tend to their grand-parents through the end-of-life in their own homes. It was not unusual to see Grandpa take up residence in what used to be the family living room. Therefore this new ‘outsourcing’ of end-of life put both an emotional stressor on their shoulders, as they felt as though they were abandoning their parents, and a fiscal stressor on their pocketbooks. Now, with life extended they had to cover costs for nursing homes and/or they had to build in travel expenses to visit their continually aging parents possibly across many states. This was far from an intimate was to die, this was death in the age of commercialism and capitalism.

Are fiscally aware but not necessarily prepared – this generation saw great growth in the economy and for some time tremendous strength in a growing middle class but if they didn’t, or weren’t able to, prepare accordingly for a rainy day, this generation also saw the dramatic shrinking of that very middle class with the passing years. Boomers also experienced a significant shift in power and the reality of our dependence on other countries for things so important to our everyday lives as oil. This generation remembers quite vividly the gas shortages and the lines at the pumps with their babies in tow, during the 70’s. They also had the aforementioned hardships of carrying for multiple generations which often depleted their savings and the likelihood that they would over commit to savings such as 401Ks, according to The Fiscal Times (October 2015), ‘the average retirement portfolio… has just $136,200 in it.’ This severe shortfall has led this strong and capable generation to rely heavily on the promise of social security.

How they need to be reached and communicated to:

  • They still read newspapers and rely on the TV for their news.
  • They prefer face-to-face interactions over being buffered by forms of technology
  • They are happy to make due and while they have proven themselves to have a voice; they also believe in the greater good and tend to not want to make waves.
    • This tends to keep this generation a bit quieter than the millennial and more likely to ‘do as they’re told’.
  • They tend to have have more scattered families therefore are more likely to feel the need to maintain their independence and not have to rely on others for their well-being.
  • They tend to choose quality over quantity of life as they saw the harm done to their own psyche as well as the well-being of their parents due to the options and institutionalization of the end of life (noted above).
  • They are not quite as adept at researching their options and tend to lean on others who are ‘at the helm’ be it in commerce or healthcare. They want to be involved in decisions which keep them healthy and capable but are overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available to them.
  • Offer a support team to help in major healthcare decisions and the ability to decide how they’d like to proceed.


Born approximately between the years of 1982-2004, Millenials are between the ages of 12-34 years. There is a great discrepancy on the range for this generation but for the sake of defining the borders of the generation we’ll ascribe to the categorization as set by Strauss and Howe. They were born during a time of connectivity. The internet was growing…exponentially. The Berlin Wall came down, unifying Germany and offering hope to the world.

While born into a time of unification it was also one of great uncertainty and lack of control of ‘others.’ There were bombings (Olympic Park, Unibomber, 911), and the OJ Simpson’s highly televised ‘chase’ and trial brought a new level of ‘reality TV’ into our homes. Drama was everywhere and now instantly accessible 24 hours a day. AIDS was an epidemic, and school shootings began, starting with the Columbine High Shooting, and continued.

This generation of Americans are technologically versed and fragmented. This was truly the MTV Generation; they never knew a world without music on TV.
The internet was accessible – AOL (1985) and email became a part of their world. Many were never aware of a ‘before the internet’ timeframe. News came predominately from TV and the Web, with Newspapers taking a back seat.

This is a generation that is:
Connected – Millenials are always connected to others and by various devices. “Smart” devices (phones, watches, cars, appliances, etc.) are responsive—or work across platforms or other devices at once— and support the use of multiple use as they thirst for a connection to the world.

Multi-taskers – Due to the multitude of devices at their disposal along with managing their ‘off-line’ existence, they’ve become amazingly adept multi-taskers.

Involved and wanting to give feedback – This generation relies heavily on others who came before and also, a type of a trickle down effect, are more willing to give feedback to those who may follow. They feel their voice has value, and they want to share opinions. This generation was likely raised in a household where things often revolved around them unlike the generations prior which were not nearly as child-centric. The generation proceeding them, Generation X,  was full of ‘latch-key’ kids so the parents for this generation tended to over compensated for this one. I believe the benefit of this is a stronger more confident voice for this generation which is in direct dispute with the other option and misnomer, the ‘Me Generation’.

Community oriented and ones who wish to effect change – As per the reasons above, they have a level of self-confidence not seen in past generations and with that a belief that they truly can change things. Consequently, there is a willingness to try to find opportunities to succeed often in niche ways (entrepreneurial) not seen possibly since our Greatest Generation (Those who grew up during the depression, fought in WWII and went on to build what is ‘modern-day’ America).

Comfortable with self-expression – Again their level of self-confidence leads to their ability and willingness to express themselves how they see fit —whether it be body adornments such as tattoos or piercings or freer expressions of themselves sexually. This freedom extends to other behaviors and groups as well and affords them a higher level of acceptance for people of other faiths, ethnicities and race.  For them, all is permissible within the realm of being true to themselves.

How they need to be reached/communicated with:

  • Meet them on their terms, where and when they want and bring them into the discussion and decisions – Don’t talk to, or sell them.
  • Utilize many avenues of communication from internet/social media, tv and lastly print.
  • Prove how working with, buying from or partnering with you affords them the opportunity to effect change and make a better world.
  • It’s not aways about the bottom line financially for them as much as it is about where the rubber meets the road and what it means for the greater good.
  • Lead them through their options and allow them to mix and match things as they see best suits their needs be it on a purchase or their own well-being/healthcare.
  •  Incentivize them to give positive feedback so others, like them, will follow suit.


If you still aren’t sure how to cross the generational divide, the magazine Gold Digest offers some more specific advice on how to play golf with a boomer versus a millennial.


The Power of Passion

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Passion is key to professional success. Without passion, you have nothing worth waking up for and heading into the office to build. A successful business begins with finding something you can throw yourself and your heart into.

When you work passionately with affecting change as your goal, the bottom line will follow.  A passion-based business always has at its core meeting your target market’s need.

Ask The Questions

In order to meet a need, you must first identify it. This process may take time because you cannot meet a need in a void. You need to get into the minds of your target market to understand fully what they need and how they’ll use it.

You cannot sit in an ivory tower, brainstorm what “they” want, and put it out there. The trick is for you to figure out how to discover what “they” need and make that happen. Do this by asking questions, listening to the answers, and then building your business around that gap. Fill the void.

Create your products or round out your concept based on what is missing in the marketplace. Ask yourself:

  • Are you building something to appease an individual, or is it a solitary offering?
  • Is it intended for a patient and a doctor or is it a patient and caregivers (family/friends)?
  • Is your product one that already exists, yet you feel you have a “better mousetrap” to offer?
  • Will your product/service speak to multiple generations? If so, do you need revisions within your product/concept in order to make it that much better of a fit?

Listen to the Answers

Of course beyond asking the questions is listening to the answers. Listen without bias, without editing, and with an open heart. When you listen this way, you’ll be able to push your passion through to fruition in a way that will be well received by those you intend to serve most.

When you’ve begun from a passionate position, asked the right questions, listened to the answers, and responded with a product or service that fills a void, you’re well on the way to securing buy-in from customers and investors alike.

Confirm Buy-in

Always confirm buy-in from your target market by reaching out to early adopters and brand advocates. What do these customers need to know about your business in order to feel comfortable parting with their money? Ask them what they need to ensure their commitment? Today’s savvy consumers are bombarded with purchase options and need assurance your product or service is perfect for them. Having social proof in the form of devoted customers gives that buying confidence.

Whether it’s a new product line in fashion or food, rebranding your existing business, conceptualizing new ways to connect patients to healthcare providers, or something as lofty as launching a bank, having a successful product or service is all about bringing your passion to fruition. You’ll do that through asking and listening and acting in a way that fills a marketplace void and meets your target market’s needs.

So, here’s to passion-based projects and affecting change! Here’s to business done in a way that shifts the power from the bottom line to the bottom of your consumer’s hearts.

Work With Us

Bringing in an objective and unbiased researcher will help you as you get started on your new, or existing, passion-based business. Let us help you with market research, ensuring you’ll ask the right questions, really listen to the answers, and be able to appropriately interpret and implement the results.


Guest Blog: How Do You Start a Bank?

CapStarLogo_PMS303_PMS4515 2014

By Beth Alexander, Private Banker and Communications Director of CapStar Bank

With an ongoing 30-year career in banking, Claire Tucker had a terrific job as state president of a growing bank, doing what she loved and knew well. Then one day in 2007, she got a call from an old friend, a former bank president she had worked with nearly a decade earlier at First American Bank. He had an unusual proposition: Let’s start a bank.

That would mean giving up her secure current job in the upper echelon of her institution and starting to work on…a dream.

The idea for a new bank was confirmed by market research conducted to determine whether middle Tennessee really needed another bank. The research found that while very large institutions were well-served by large banks and mom-and-pops were getting the attention they needed from small community banks, there was a lack of service to the businesses in the middle—mid-size businesses and family businesses that were growing or going through transitions that required both expertise and patient listening on the part of a financial banking partner. This resonated with Claire: She believed it and believed she could sell it.

Working with her old banking friend, the future chairman of the board, they raised more than $88 million in the fall of 2007 from nearly 300 mostly local investors, people who, they hoped, would open accounts and generate buzz about the new bank, CapStar. At that time, the Dow hit an all-time high of 14,164, and prime rate stood at 7.75%.

They worked with the bank’s new board to develop an ambitious but realistic five-year plan and began hiring experts, many of whom came from the core of successful people behind First American, to build the bank—crafting its lending policies, purchasing the latest bank software, building a culture of hard work and a strong team. One of their outside-the-box decisions: hiring me, a magazine editor, to join their sales force of highly experience bankers. Scary? Yes. And exciting. During those early sales meetings before the bank opened, I had a hard time visualizing exactly how it all would come together. But our leadership team was brilliant, far-sighted and working every hour to be prepared for the day when the Fed would issue the letter that allowed us to open.

CapStar opened on July 14, 2008, between the meltdown of Bear Stearns and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, followed the next day by the AIG bailout. By then, prime rate had dipped to 5.0% and only five months later, it sank to 3.25% where it has stayed ever since. On December 16, for the first time in history, the Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate to zero. Did I say it was scary before? What kind of chutzpa did it take to open a bank in this environment? While it seemed as if we were walking a tightrope, our timing was serendipitous. All around us, other banks experienced the softening of their loan portfolios, while we had a clean balance sheet and the capacity to lend. Because of this, CapStar was also an attractive option to those who wanted to take their gains out of the market.

Now I understand what happens when a bank is born. Claire never lost her cool or her sense of humor; she never let us lose sight of the mission to meet the needs of those underserved mid-size businesses, their executives and their workforces. CapStar adopted the tagline, We’re Listening, to reflect our single minded intent to deliver on exactly what the customer needs to fulfill a financial goal—not simply to offer a product but to find a tailored solution.

Within three years, we were operating at a profit, and today CapStar is one of only two billion-dollar banks in the country out of the more than 70 that opened in 2008. In the past seven years, we’ve purchased and integrated a terrific bank in Sumner County along with a mortgage division and added financial planning to our menu of services.

Because of Claire’s leadership and that of the other leaders around her, I’m surrounded by colleagues at every level who are not bound by a 40-hour work week. We’re available to our customers at night and on weekends, and I consider my customers and my coworkers friends. They’re also my inspiration to get a little more done each day, wherever it’s needed. We all perform whatever task is necessary to get the job done for the customer and, as a team, for each other.

It is an inspiration to work with our President and Chief Executive Officer Claire Tucker every day—a woman who is always 100 percent engaged, personally attentive and wise in many ways, not just banking, although that is no small thing. Claire says she’s a late-blooming entrepreneur, but though she may have come late to the start-up party, her years of experience, the respect she wields in the community and her personal integrity give each of us a standard to aspire to every day. I can’t imagine a more effective model for leadership.

And if any of us ever need anything from our CEO, she’s listening.


Market Research: Your Road Map to Business Success



I’m guessing you’d never dream of taking a cross-country road trip without first deciding upon a destination. Once you determine your destination you would then check online for directions and chart your general course, right? You’d also make plans to periodically consult the map app on your phone as you traveled, and you would determine the best places to stop along the way for gas, meals and places to stay. What does this have to do with market research you ask? Well, everything.

Failing to utilize market research for your business is like taking off on a road trip with no idea where you’re going, how you’ll get there, or where you’ll need to stop along the way to re-adjust. Good market and consumer research offers valuable insights and guidance for successful growth, regardless of a business’ age or stage. Let’s take a look.

  • Young Business/New Ideas

If your business endeavor is in its infancy, it’s important that you figure out its actual viability.

Using research at this stage helps you explore and uncover important aspects of establishing a new business or idea. It can help you anticipate the future so that you can set goals and chart a course for growth.

For the earliest of ideas, qualitative research (such as focus groups) will best assess the market for its reception to your idea. If your concept is a little more fleshed out, then quantitative research (such as online or phone surveys) would work well, too. Quantitative research can help identify your most receptive target audience by gauging market interest and potential. You’ll also assess the scalability of your idea when you determine if it’s highly niched or has a more broad appeal.

If you have a new idea, business, or concept — validate it with research.

  • Adolescent Business/Ready to Launch Product

Launching a new product or product line? Are you testing a new concept, or re-branding your business? Then you need to know how your brand is both perceived and received in the current marketplace.

Using research at this stage can build upon what you’ve learned in the first phase of research and help you strengthen your brand image. Qualitative research will allow you to test your marketing in front of a “live” audience. This provides valuable feedback for making final tweaks to the product, solidifying brand direction, and confirming the best marketing path.

If you’re ready to launch a new product or concept, or simply rebrand — confirm it with research.

  • Grown-up Business/Established Brand

If your business is a household name with a catalog of favorite products, don’t get too comfortable. How are you keeping up with evolving marketplace trends? How do you create and keep loyal clients?

Using research at this stage helps you monitor customer perception and satisfaction, marketplace changes, and purchasing behaviors.

Qualitative research allows you to hear the emotion behind your brand and look for line extensions. It also gives you the opportunity to talk to both satisfied and unsatisfied customers to discover insights that will heighten brand awareness and accelerate product innovation. Quantitative research can also be used to keep a close eye on your business and watch trends in the marketplace.

If you have an established brand—refine it with research.

So who needs research? You do! Research is the road map you need to arrive at your desired destination—a thriving business—successfully.

Not Just Another Vendor


In today’s world, market research is more than just a one-stop shop. It’s not enough to collate information through a couple of quantifiable data points, and then send a client out into the chaotic world of consumerism.

For me, building relationships with my clients – not just acting as another vendor – is the most fulfilling part of my work as a market researcher. Before taking on any new project, I like to gather as much information as possible, understanding the perspectives and objectives of my clients in order to make their projects more actionable. Working with businesses to gather and analyze market research is more than just another service. It is a necessary partnership.

All too often, outside vendors receive a negative reputation as ad hoc suppliers, serving a particular purpose that does not require further interpretation. Not only does this invalidate the larger purpose of market research, it detracts from true fulfillment that comes through a career built on building relationships. I love to stay in touch with my clients, hearing of their successes, and helping them overcome any roadblocks they have encountered.

The challenge as a market research vendor is remaining a partner to clients while maintaining autonomy and an objective opinion that gives credence to your value as a vendor. To offer biased and parroted rhetoric on an issue pertaining to a client’s needs and desires would completely discount the role of hiring an outside perspective. It’s a balancing act, but knowing the industry, understanding the client’s culture, and being ready at a moment’s notice is what makes my work exciting.

As someone who thrives on building relationships with my clients and overseeing the duration of their projects – from the brainstorming beginnings to the palpable successes and the challenges in between, it is imperative to me to truly get to know each client on a deeper level. I focus on digging into my clients’ objectives, in order to turn a vague idea into a successful and actionable plan. There is nothing more gratifying than watching my clients succeed because they chose to work with someone who is in it for the long haul – not just another vendor.

Keep it Personal

It’s bound to happen sooner or later. Your customers are going to have a negative or frustrating experience with your product or services. It’s simply an unavoidable fact. The question isn’t if it will happen, but how are you going to deal with it when it happens? And, what strategies are you going to put in place to ensure you don’t lose those customers for life?

I recently had a very frustrating customer experience of my own with a certain well-known airline. Aggravated by my situation, I reached out to the airline to vocalize my dissatisfaction, and was surprised when they immediately responded by throwing a couple of flight vouchers my way. While a few free plane tickets in an ever-inflating economy did sound nice, it didn’t get to the root of my problem. I didn’t feel heard, I didn’t feel appreciated, and no action was taken to prevent the issue from reoccurring in the future.

In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Do you view these situations as an opportunity to learn and improve? Or like many companies, are you guilty of handing out automated responses for the sake of saving time? While Baby Boomers might be completely satisfied with a few free vouchers, a Millennial customer may want something entirely different. The trick is in knowing who your customers are and how to cater to their individual preferences and needs. Sound impossible? It may not be as complicated as you might think.

So what’s the first step to discovering what your customers really want? Ask them. Go directly to the source and find out what they want and what you can do to be authentic and accommodating on their terms. Find out what your Baby Boomer customers value and appreciate. Take the time to understand how to best communicate with your Millennial customers, and so on and so forth. But, by all means never assume that all members within a cohort are created equal. Knowing what one individual wants doesn’t necessarily translate into understanding all. However, by arming yourself with a deeper knowledge of your various cohorts, you will be equipped to meet your customer’s unique needs and retain valuable relationships in the future.

As silly as it might sound, it’s easy to forget that customers are humans. Having a bad experience with a product or service can ruin their day, put them in a bad mood and significantly affect how they view your brand. That’s why it’s so critical to never lose that personal touch no matter how large your company might be. Just like my recent experience with a major airline, I was seeking a personal response to my personal situation, not an automated answer from an impersonal company. Having their ear meant so much and knowing that my words were heard, and changes were made to ensure no one else ever had to go through what I did, meant that much more.

So where do you go from here? Be authentic, keep it personal, and seek to see a complaint through to resolution. It’s really as simple as that. There’s no way to prevent negative experiences from happening, but with a little effort and a willingness to listen, you have the opportunity to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates that last a lifetime. Which do you choose?

4 Keys to Excellent Customer Service

Customer service. We’ve all had our fair share of positive and negative experiences, and more often than not the worst experiences are the ones that stand out in our memories for years to come. When I started my company, Advocate Market Research, more than 15 years ago my goal was to help businesses gain a truer picture of their consumers by becoming the ‘voice’ of their consumer, and ultimately their ‘advocate.’ And when it comes to customer service, isn’t that what we all want, an advocate? Someone that will support our stance and empathize with our experience whether good or bad. So before you respond to your next customer service issue, here are 4 Key Tips to help ensure that your customer’s experience is a positive one.

1.) Listen, Listen, Listen: I’ve seen it all too often – a customer shares a frustration or complaint about a product or service and the company responds immediately by talking, explaining and trying to rationalize the issue. So what’s the problem? Consumers want to be heard and understood. Before jumping to a quick solution, take the time to truly listen, empathize and acknowledge the customer’s situation. By acting as a listening board, you will provide a safe place for your customers to share their frustrations and suggestions.

2.) Unpack the Baggage: While your customers might be disappointed with your service or product for a various number of reasons, we can’t forget they are also bringing their own baggage to that experience. Maybe they’ve had multiple bad experiences with your company or perhaps it’s something deeper? No matter what the situation, context is always key. Unless you understand the baggage, you won’t understand why they are responding in a certain way. Know your customers, know their baggage and you will excel at customer service.

3.) Make it Personal: In a world filled with technology and automation, never lose sight of the fact that it’s people in the end that we are really trying to relate to and understand. It’s our job to listen and act as a customer advocate, so try to understand and speak at their level. Whether it’s a face-to-face experience, a phone call or a personal message, taking the time to relate to your customers on a personal level speaks volumes. And vice versa – nothing aggravates a frustrating customer service experience like a lack of sincerity or genuine concern.

4.) Don’t Just React, Respond: How you respond to your customers and the way you extend the olive branch matters. When I think of the word react I think of a quick action, or an impulse, something with little thought or reflection. Do not simply react to your consumers, instead take the time to listen and respond with a sincere solution. Oftentimes companies will spot a negative comment about their service or product on social media and quickly react by deleting the comment or blocking the user. May this never be! Instead – we should see these types of interactions as opportunities to let our customer service skills shine! By showing your followers how you respond to a negative complaint you are letting your customers know that you truly care and will do whatever it takes to make the situation right.

At the end of the day there isn’t a secret formula for excelling at customer service. Simply listen, make it personal, and take the time to truly understand what your customer wants and needs. Invest in your customer and they will invest in you.


Techniques – Honor Diversity (#3 of 3)

Suggestion Three – honor the diversity

Groups are as different as the folks who sit around those oblong tables.  Don’t jump to conclusions just because you’re sitting around the table with a group of teachers (typically more friendly than others), anesthesiologists (typically more guarded than most), or banking customers (typically more hostile than others) because even though there are those generalities or even stereotypes, those can be quickly blown when you realize each and every one of those anesthesiologists, teachers or customers are just people:  people who live their lives above and beyond their interaction with your clients’ products or services;  people who deal with family happiness’s and challenges;  people who come from different races, religions, creeds, genders, cohorts, etc.  Sure, package them into subsets, draw enough assumptions to build your guide and frame the discussion, but once you sit down with 8-10 strangers sitting around you, take off the gloves, heck, if you have to, take off your shoes too, and look at them as individuals who need to be treated as such.  And, never forget, the guide is just a guide.  A moderators’ guide is a fantastic jumping off point but it’s the nooks and crannies that you explore, while you’re in the group, learning about your respondents as people that will bring you those gems that every client will be pleased to have gotten.


Last, but hardly least – reap the rewards and the surprising extras!

So, all the very best to you as you moderate a group, or hire a moderator to tend to your project.  But as you’re doing so, take a moment to remember that people are just people and they all come to your table with aback story.  The job of the moderator is to decipher where these folks are coming from as effectively and efficiently as possible.  Thus informed, you can then get down to brass tacks.   Dig into the guide and make sure you come out of there having answered the clients’ objectives and, in a perfect world, even gleaned insights well beyond the barriers of the guide.  Of course, for me, my biggest reward isn’t hearing from the client how thrilled they are with the groups (now, dear clients, don’t get me wrong…I love making you happy but my responsibility to you is to get unguarded information from your customers/clients/employees and that’s what I’m bound to do) but from the respondents themselves.  When you have respondents walking out of your groups thanking your for having invited them, there simply isn’t much that is more rewarding.  You know when respondents say ‘thank you,’ they trusted you enough to open themselves up and share their honest opinions.  You know you mined those gems which will serve your client well, and that, dear reader, is the key, no, it’s the technique of all techniques, that puts you heads above the rest.  Know your project, understand the objectives, learn the clients’ product or industry but, above all, moderate a group which will leave the respondents leaving happy having been there.

Techniques #2 of 3

Suggestion Two – Wear MANY hats

No group is a cakewalk, but they are fun, challenging and productive if you know how best to proceed.  So, as to what technique(s) I employ, I guess I’d have to say I’m part moderator (adhering to the needs of my client), part therapist (gathering insight into my respondents’ stories, their past…what they bring to the table and breaking down walls), part friend (put them at ease, validate their concerns) and part parent (keep them on track, after all we do have a guide to get through and everyone knows there’s no dessert (their incentive) until dinner’s done).

Of course there are many other hats I wear during the course of a group but these are present at most every one.  I’m good cop/bad cop, mom/dad, Frick and Frack, all rolled into one.  You have to be.  You need to be as flexible, agile and complex as those individuals sitting around your table.

A moderator with a monotone voice and a one size fits all philosophy need not apply.  Sure, you’ll get through the moderator’s guide with that type of person at the head of the table but will you get to the heart of the matter?  Will you gather honest input? Will you break down the barriers that just about every respondent enters the room with and bring them into your world enough to share space in a safe and unguarded way?