Tag Archives: Business

Strategies for Change: Bill McKibben on Using Events To Battle Climate Change

Lately I’ve been writing about how event planners can get even more impact out of their events by leveraging the resources at their disposal, in order to help create positive change.  This time I’m going to give you a prime example of how things can also work the other way around: anyone with a cause in mind can use events as a powerful tool for facilitating the change they’d like to see come about.

Bill McKibben lives down the road from me in Middlebury, Vermont.  Bill is the co-founder and global organizer of an organization called 350.org, which is focused like a laser beam on the challenges of global climate change. His latest book is Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet

One of Bill’s talents is that he is a very effective storyteller. And if you listen to what he’s saying, he’s actually a pretty scary guy.  (If you want to see what I mean, check out this Charlie Rose interview from last year.)   And that’s the point, of course.  Bill  and 350.org have built their overall strategy based on assembling groups of people and getting them engaged and empowered to take action to steer things in a more positive direction.  That’s a great example of using the power of events to create change.

I recently had a chance to chat with Bill about EventsForChange.  Here are some excerpts from my conversation with him:

As an activist, what part do live events play in your overall strategy for 350.org?

They’ve been at the heart of our strategy. In 2009 we coordinated 5,200 simultaneous rallies in 180 countries, and in 2010 7,400 in 189 countries. CNN called the effort “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history”.  Our emphasis is on very widespread and beautiful action, that we can then gather images of to make more than the sum of its parts.

 You have talked about the need to “build political will”.  Can you give a couple of best examples of how you have used events to educate, inspire and move people to action?

Well, when we did the earlier domestic version of this–called StepItUp, spring of 2007, we had 1,400 events in all 50 states.  And two days later both Obama and Clinton, then running for president, adopted our goal of 80% emission cuts. It was pretty neat.
 

 While planning 350.org events, how do you incorporate strategies for altering the perspective of people who are largely disinterested in the climate change issue?

Many people do that in their own communities. We don’t exactly plan the events–it’s more like a potluck supper. We set the date and the theme, and people come up with remarkable stuff in their own places. 

What role does storytelling play in the process of planning 350.org events?

It’s more in the aftermath. We tell the stories of these events constantly, in words and in pictures. 

What has proven to be the most challenging aspect of organizing events to support the mission of 350.org?

The globe is a big place.

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Why Customer Satisfaction Doesn’t Mean Loyalty: 10 Prescriptions

 

 

 

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP.
Everyone talks about it: “We’ve got to make sure our customers are satisfied.” Some businesses go to great lengths to define what they think it takes to satisfy their clientele and then spend lots of time and money on comment cards, online surveys, focus groups or just in-the-moment chats with customers or clients to measure how well they have done at delivering what was expected. What’s wrong with that? Well, it turns out that just because you’ve satisfied your customers doesn’t necessarily mean they will be back. And isn’t the normal assumption that, if you have satisfied their expectations, they will reward you with their loyalty?

The problem is that too many people use the terms “customer satisfaction” and “customer loyalty” to mean the same thing. They don’t. And consumer behavior research shows why this distinction is important: Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Co. found that, in a series of studies of a variety of businesses, between 65 percent and 85 percent of customers who “defected” — i.e. switched to the competition — reported that they had been “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their original provider, but they left anyway!

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to be concerned with satisfying your clients, attendees, or sponsors. On the contrary, if the goal is to inspire repeat business, you need to go beyond merely meeting expectations and consider what really motivates people to be loyal. After all, satisfaction is just an attitude or opinion a customer has, but loyalty has to do with the customer’s behavior. And their behavior is what we’re ultimately interested in, not just what they think of us.

Loyal customers do more than just come back again. They are also less price-sensitive; they are more forgiving of occasional slip-ups in the product or service or experience you provide; they are more resistant to the allure of new competition and, perhaps most important, they provide crucial word-of-mouth advertising, whether it’s face-to-face or online.  Clients or guests who are only “satisfied” do not. In an era of increasing competition, we need to be looking at customer satisfaction as merely the entry fee for playing the game — sort of like the ante that allows you to sit at a poker table. If you don’t deliver satisfaction, then you don’t get to play. But “satisfying” your customers — i.e. delivering what they already think they should get anyway — only avoids chasing them away to the competition. If you want to truly inspire loyalty, you have to build a lasting bond with them.

So why do people develop loyalties to a particular company? A few years back, I conducted a study on the issue of customer loyalty at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. After studying a group of “loyal” restaurant customers, it became clear that loyal behavior is closely related to feelings of affiliation and personal connection that the client establishes with a business and its employees. These loyal customers were satisfied customers, for sure, but they also consistently expressed an appreciation for being recognized, for receiving personalized service and for being treated like valued individuals. Individualized attention like using the guest’s name, offering their regular drink, providing personal recommendations that you think this particular guest might appreciate or delivering a swift and sincere response to any problems that might arise all appear to go a long way toward establishing a sustainable relationship.

10 PRESCRIPTIONS FOR LOYALTY
I think we often put too much emphasis on hiring “experienced” customer service personnel, rather than on selecting people who are natural rapport-builders. Then we spend most of our training time on the mechanics of service, instead of on activities that will really promote loyal behavior. What kinds of action could we be taking? Here are a few suggestions:

(1) Raise awareness among both staff and management. Employees can’t be expected to appreciate loyalty’s importance on their own; it is management’s job to make them aware of its impact on everyone’s success and how their own behavior can increase loyalty. Use stories of “legendary” service incidents to help illustrate the kind of behavior you’re looking for.

(2) Hire people who have natural rapport-building skills. If it’s part of their job to build relationships with clientele, then management should be careful to recruit, hire and retain staff who have a natural talent for it.

(3) Teach and reward the learning and use of guest’s names. Bring in a memory expert to instruct your staff in memorization techniques. Build a list of guest names and personal preferences. Provide financial incentives for staff who collect new names for the list. Coach staff members on how to incorporate individual guest names into normal service encounters.

(4) Train employees to “read” guest needs and to personalize each service encounter. Stress the fact that suggestive selling should be used to make personal recommendations of items that the server thinks the client might enjoy or appreciate. Your staff should be encouraged to get creative; try to anticipate things that might appeal to the client before they ask.

(5) Go out of your way to respond to service failures or guest complains. Problem situations can be exploited for the opportunity they offer to provide a highly responsive, personalized service experience to the client, which reinforces feelings of being noticed and valued as an individual. A weak or nonexistent response will produce the opposite effect.

(6) Expect and empower employees to respond to problems without waiting for management’s approval. Data collected by the Technical Assistant Research Programs show a close link between resolving the client’s problem on the spot and their intent to patronize your business again. Staff members need to receive instruction in handling a variety of scenarios, and they also should be given clear parameters to define what corrective actions they are authorized to take.

(7) Reinforce relationship building through employee incentive and reward programs. Recognize and encourage employees who demonstrate success at building repeat patronage. For example, restaurant servers who are most often requested by guests at the door deserve credit for it. Likewise, employees who are skillful at collecting the names of repeat customers or attendees can be rewarded for their extra contribution. In both cases management is pointing out the kind of results they want their staff to be shooting for.

(8) Invest in employee retention. Studies have shown a strong correlation between high customer ratings and low employee turnover. When an employee leaves, any relationships they have built with clients are in danger of being broken. Consider taking steps to protect your best “people people” by earning their loyalty.  (By the way, these same principles apply to employee loyalty. They’re human, too!)

(9) Adjust your customer feedback tools to measure for loyalty indicators. Instead of just asking clients whether they were satisfied with their experience, find out if they would be willing to recommend your services to others. Why or why not? Do they know any of your staff or management by name? Did they feel as if they received personal attention? Were they made to feel like they matter? These may be the kinds of things that will determine whether loyalty will be produced.

(10) Provide clients with opportunities to “connect” with staff members beyond normal business transactions. Inviting guests to receptions, seminars or public-relations events will offer the possibility for social interaction not possible during normal business interactions, enhancing the potential for social bonding. You will build closer relationships by getting to know your guests as individuals, rather than as relatively anonymous consumers and providers.

Where loyalty is concerned, it’s not just what we do for people; it’s how we treat them while we’re doing it. The key question is, how do they feel when they’re walking out the door? One thing is for sure: to the degree that your clientele are allowed to feel anonymous in their interactions with you, you’ll have a hard time inspiring their loyalty.




Why sustainability is not “good”

A couple of years ago, I saw Jeffrey Hollender speak at a Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) conference.  Jeffrey was a co-founder (along with a guy named Alan Newman, who went on to create another Vermont brand, Magic Hat) of Seventh Generation, a company that makes “environmentally friendly” cleaning products and is a leader in the corporate social responsibility movement.  Imagine an auditorium filled with a couple of hundred business people bent on being more socially responsible, and Jeffrey comes out with this: that he didn’t consider 7thG’s products to be good. Because there’s a big difference between “less bad” and “good”. He said that, “as much as I like Seventh Generation products–and I think they’re great–they are only ‘less bad’. All of our products create CO2 emissions, they create garbage, and they use natural resources. They’re better than our competitors, but they’re not good.”

He went on to say that it’s not enough to try to reduce the amount of damage we’re doing to the world—we need to renew and repair the damage that’s already been done, and to work towards positive change.  I figure that if we’re all headed for hell in a handbasket (although personally I’ve never actually ridden in a handbasket), the only thing “less bad” will accomplish is to slow down the ride a little bit.

Physicians taking the Hippocratic Oath agree “to do no harm.” Green hotels reduce their negative environmental impact by conserving energy, composting and reusing sheets and towels. Seventh Generation works hard to formulate products with far less undesirable chemical byproducts. And while producing special events may seem a whole lot different than manufacturing laundry detergent or treating patients, Jeff’s point about going from “less bad” to “good” still applies.

Don’t get me wrong; sustainable measures aren’t just good–they’re a great idea.  It’s fairly common practice to incorporate at least some sustainable practices into events these days and that’s definitely moving in the right direction, but we can do better than that. There are many opportunities to use The Power of Events to leave the world a little better place than before—and that’s good!


6 Event Power Tools for building positive change

What’s in your toolbox when you’re planning or executing an event?  It doesn’t matter what kind of event—it could be a conference, music festival, product launch, sporting event, trade show, or celebration.  As the builder of the event, you’ve got valuable resources at your disposal that can be used as effective tools for enhancing the overall impact of your event.  I call these Power Tools because, well, they give you the power to make a far bigger difference than what you could ever hope to accomplish on your own.  Here is a set of six power tools you have available for your use in the process of planning and executing any event:

PLACE – the site you select can have a significant effect on the surrounding area.  After Katrina, many planners considered holding events in New Orleans as a way to bring more economic activity back to the city.  Far-away destinations have become less attractive because of the significant carbon footprint from participants traveling to get there.  And wherever an event is held, there are people or organizations nearby that could be offered assistance or support. 

PEOPLE – events bring together LOTS of people: participants, volunteer or paid staff, vendors and service providers, exhibitors, sponsors, performers…and each one of them has the potential to contribute.  Within each of these groups, you will find people with specific experience and expertise that can be shared: helping to build something, teach or advise, or solve problems.  Your board of directors, hotel or food & beverage staff, contractors—they can all be invited to channel their talents and ideas to assist a disadvantaged population or provide a benefit to the community in some way.  You’re bringing them together; now make the most of it!

PROGRAM  – as you design the entire experience for participants, weave in opportunities to educate, inspire to action, or create a physical change that leaves a site or organization in a better place. Connect a cause with an audience by giving them the stage for at least a few minutes or, better yet, involving them in an interactive activity.  And while you’re at it, offer all participants the opportunity to contribute time, money or ideas to a cause during the course of the event.

PRACTICES – certainly group events are excellent opportunities to model and employ sustainable business practices.  Mandate recycling, composting, bulk water stations, printing stations…all measures that will reduce your lasting footprint.  Buy local.  Offer healthy menu selections.  Wherever it makes sense, convert printed materials to electronic. Specify your expectations in your RFPs to influence venues, vendors and service providers to meet your standards.  If they want your business, they will deliver.  Want some great practical examples? Check out this MPI Sustainability Report.

POSSESSIONS –
this one is about “stuff”, and events have lots of it! It’s just a matter of getting things organized.   The traditional fundraising approach would be to simply make a direct contribution of a portion of revenues from the event.  If you’re a vendor or exhibitor, you might consider donating a percentage of your sales: that benefits the company by promoting sales and also the consumers, who get to contribute to a cause “for free”.  Venues and service providers can donate space or services at no or discounted charge.  Targeted populations can be granted free or reduced-price admission.   Participants can be encouraged to donate money or unused possessions (discarded cell phones, used clothing) to the cause. 

PROMOTION – most events employ a number of promotional messages during the process of building attendance and communicating information people will need in order to participate.  In your messages, provide causes or non-profit organizations with the same kind of exposure that you would for any paid sponsor.  Whether it’s media ads, printed programs, social media campaigns, radio interviews, whatever…each message offers you the opportunity to work towards positive change by increasing awareness and concern for social causes, supporting behavior change campaigns, or inspiring others to action. And while you’re doing this, you’ll be making people feel even better about your event and the people behind it.

Of course, you always need to keep your focus on accomplishing the original objectives for each of the stakeholders, or the event won’t be a success.  But skillfully used, these power tools can get big jobs done.  How have you seen these tools used to build positive change through events?  And do you have any others in your own toolbox?

Toolbox for Change


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