What a trip to Whole Foods will teach you about branding and company culture.

A few weeks ago I went food shopping at my local (but regional chain) grocery store. I shop for food in a few places as I can’t seem to find one store that offers me everything. I wandered the store gathering my items when I realized I couldn’t find this one type of snack my daughter likes. I swear I went up and down every aisle, but no luck. I finally found an employee walking my way and I asked politely if she knew where these snacks were. “Aisle twelve I think” and she kept walking. She was polite enough and clearly had someplace to go, but she wasn’t very helpful.  I went to isle twelve, again, but still no luck. I was exasperated and left without the snacks. My experience definitely soured me on the store and the brand. This got me thinking about branding and how clearly the company hadn’t aligned their brand building efforts with their customer service actions.  But what is a ‘brand’ really?

There are many definitions of ‘brand’ of which you might be aware. Since you’re not likely branding your cattle (the older definition of brand), let’s focus on what people think is the newer definition. A brand is a logo and what it stands for – what comes to mind when people think about a company or something it offers. Think search engine, think Google. Think fast internet product delivery, think Amazon Prime. Think organic, think Whole Foods. You get the idea.

Here’s the problem. The older definition of brand limits us to what people see. The newer definition limits us to what people think. Guess what? They’re both wrong as far as definitions go. They’re wrong because they only focus on perception, on what happens in the eyes of the customer and potential customer outside the company walls. But your brand is more than your logo, more than what’s in your ads, more than what’s on your website and more than what’s in your sales presentations. Your brand is who you are, what you believe in. It’s the relationships that you’ve made; both internal and external. Your brand is how your employees feel when they show up for work. Your brand is your operational processes. Your brand is your core purpose and this is something you can’t broadcast, rather it is something that is believed and built by everyone working at your organization and by every one of your customers and potential customers.

You ARE your brand. You might not think so, but every single employee has a role to play in working together to build your brand. From the front-line folks to the back-office staff to the executive management – all of you are your brand. How you talk to customers, how you treat employees – THIS is your brand and this goes far beyond the cool logo and website you’ve created or even the unique service you offer.

Working together to deliver unique value and doing so in a polite, responsible, meaningful way is the only way to build your brand. Don’t forget, each day your customers are besieged with ads, calls, emails; literally thousands of messages. And, if you don’t have the budget to outspend your competition on marketing, you can compete with value. But in the end, people will remember how you made them feel more than they’ll remember what you said. People like to do business with people they like. So, in addition to offering a wonderful product or service that your clients need, you can build your brand through the experiences you offer customers. How were they treated when they called your office? How were they treated when they had a complaint? Did you deliver on your promises? Did you make them wait days or weeks for an email response or transfer their call three times? Did you, even once, point to some fine print during a customer service issue?

It all comes down to human insight. Do you really know your customer? Do you know what drives them? Do you have the human insight to really connect with them?  You have to tailor your approaches to clients based on their personality and ambitions. You already know you have to offer value, but you have to do so in a way that makes them feel good about doing business with you.

When you understand your clients on a human level, you can create win-win relationships based on who your customer really IS. Again, this can’t be broadcast. Your marketing is purely a way to begin a dialogue with customers. Then you have to deliver value with every interaction, not just value for money, but value for their time and value for their trust. Make them FEEL special. THIS is your brand.

So, how do you build your brand? It starts with you. It starts when you believe you ALWAYS have to be at your best to truly offer value to your customers. Being at your best takes insight, it takes empathy and imagination on how you might connect with customers better, on how you’ll make them FEEL.

Last week I went to Whole Foods. As I walked in, I was greeted by the person behind the juice bar. As I shopped, I realized (again) that I couldn’t find something so I asked someone who was stocking shelves; “Excuse me, do you know where the fig bars are located?” I waited for him to tell me they were in aisle twelve, but instead he stopped what he was doing, got up and said with a smile “I’m happy to show you.” He then walked me clear across the store to where the fig bars were stacked. “Can I help you find anything else?” At that moment, the Whole Foods brand was more than the organic fig bars, more than the neat logo and more than the Whole Foods gift card I had in my pocket. At that moment, I FELT like a VIP. I walked in a Whole Foods customer and walked out a brand ambassador. This wasn’t a one-time thing either. Whole Foods employees are always polite, helpful and knowledgeable. Whole Foods has clearly aligned customer experience with their brand building because I always feel like a VIP there. Given Amazon’s attention to customer service, I don’t expect this to change. My family has had nothing but positive customer experiences with Amazon. Plus, now that Amazon has lowered some prices at Whole Foods, maybe people who weren’t customers might now experience it for themselves.

You want another one? Just yesterday I went to Joann to buy some fabric (I like to sew – you have a problem with that?) and when I got to the check out, the lady said the total was $80 and asked for my coupons. When I said I forgot them at home, she suggested I go online with my phone and get one, which I did, for 50% off. She saved me $40! Now that’s service!

Aligning your brand building with your customer service is incredibly important. The good news is that its relatively easy and completely within your control. If you do it properly (and regularly) you’ll build brand loyalty with new and existing customers. If you don’t align your brand building with your customer service, you risk serious damage to your brand.

So, is your brand aligned with your customer experience?


The greatest email you’ll ever send.

The Greatest Email You'll Ever Send.

The Greatest Email You’ll Ever Send. 

I was recently on a plane. This isn’t unusual for me as I’m on a plane a few times a week. I proudly use “Road Warrior” as a description of myself because I’m in travel, so you can say I practice my trade all the time.

Like most road warriors, I’m always surrounded by people, though amazingly, it’s still very easy to be lonely while traveling. Days, weeks and months pass (airline miles and hotel points rack up) and time seems to disappear before your eyes. While I consider myself pretty good about keeping in touch with people (via phone, social media, etc.) I started to think about all the things I’d want people to know in the event, well, that I wasn’t around anymore. I know, it’s a bit morbid so hear me out. In the event you weren’t here on this earth tomorrow, what would you want the important people in your life to know?

So, I started to type an email. I imagined not being able to ever speak to anyone ever again. I typed and poured my heart out and I kept typing. I’m not going to give you all the details, but the evolution of the email was pretty amazing and what I’m going to do with the email might interest you.

I started with my wife. I reminded her about all the things I love and admire about her.  I reminisced about when we met, how I felt, etc. Mostly, I thanked her and told her how much I appreciated her, because I don’t do that enough. I imagined we were having the last conversation we’d ever have, and these were my notes. I also reminded her of my washboard abs and long flowing hair, not because I actually have those, but I wanted to be sure she’d smile. You can imagine, the words kept flowing from my brain onto the screen.

Then I wrote to my children. Both under ten years of age, I needed to keep it relevant to their lives now. I wrote about how much I love them and how proud I am of them, especially how kind they are. Then I thought I should write things that would be pertinent to them as they grew up. Again, I told them how much I loved them, but now I added things like how they needed to cherish one another and yes, take care of Mommy. As I kept writing, I had to change my tone, giving advice for the things I know were likely to happen as they grew up; love, heartbreak, picking the right friends, the right job and making all sorts of decisions.

Then I wrote to my parents. I told them about how much I loved them and I thanked them for everything they’ve ever done for me. I also apologized for nearly burning down the house when I was a kid, but that’s another post.

Then I wrote to my sister and then to my extended family and then to my best friends. Then, I even wrote my last social media post entitled “If you’re reading this, it was nice knowing you.”

When I thought I was done with the email, I re-read it and made changes. Turns out, this continued for many flights.  Honestly, I’m still not done, but I have to say, writing this email has been an amazing experience. I have since taken the time to call people just to tell them I love them, to thank them and basically tell them everything I wrote, using it as a script.

So what am I going to do with this email (after a few more additions)? I’m going to send it to the people I love. Why wait? What is worth saying, is worth saying now.

Breathe. Think. Type. You’ll enjoy this as will the people you love. 

Upset? Stressed at work? Read this.

If you’re upset about something at work or if you’re otherwise stressed about your commute or something someone said, this post is for you.

The other day, I was on a Delta flight. It was a small plane (maybe 15 rows in all) flying from Ithaca to Detroit to connect to Chicago. It was a short, smooth flight. The flight attendant (a woman who I guess was in her early 60s) was expertly and quickly serving beverages. It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, so she was wearing a pink ribbon pin. The female passenger sitting in front of me asked the flight attendant “Are you a survivor?” Her response, delivered with a smile, was “Twice!” The passenger then said “I just lost my sister last month…” and they proceeded to have a quiet, personal conversation. As they conversed, the flight attendant continued prepping cups with ice, etc. but not in a way that was disrespectful. They talked for a few minutes. I saw the flight attendant put her hand on the woman’s shoulder and the passenger’s head leaned towards the flight attendant’s hand. It was a raw, beautiful moment between two strangers who found an immediate connection. Just then, the man sitting behind me, who couldn’t hear the conversation, started complaining to his seatmate about the slow service. I turned around and said “There’s a reason they’re talking, just chill a minute.” His response? “I can only imagine.” Well, I thought, no you can’t. There’s a lesson here; we need to take a step back and evaluate what’s really important in life.

I have family members who are ill and friends who are ill and friends who have lost their spouses. You think they care about anything other than getting better? No, because they’ve been given a glimpse of reality. They know health is the most important thing. They know life is fleeting. You’d think we too would learn to appreciate life more. We see these things and for a moment, or an hour or a day, we do, but sooner or later, we forget.

I’m blessed with a special needs niece who has taught me more about what’s really important in life than most other people. You want to get a better perspective on life? Spend time in a children’s hospital. You’ll *never* look at your work email inbox the same again because, and here’s the point of this post, in the scheme of life, it’s irrelevant. That person at the office who always disagrees with you? Irrelevant. Being upset or annoyed about most anything work related? Irrelevant and a waste of time and energy. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be passionate about what you do, but take it all in stride. Do your job to the fullest, be passionate but don’t sweat the small stuff.

I proudly serve on the board of Make-A-Wish (Mid-Atlantic region) because helping children is a priority of mine. Plus, it grounds me. So, if you know me, you know I don’t take myself too seriously. You know I inject humor in most everything. You know I love my family and doing just about anything with my kids, including sewing patches on my daughter’s Girl Scout uniform or making funny art with breakfast food just to make the kids smile. Some people at work may think I come off aloof sometimes, but really, I’m listening to you complain about something so stupid, I only wish there were some way I could help you see what you’re missing. The truth is, it’s hard. We’re so embroiled with our days. It happens to me too.

The other lesson here is you never know what is going on with someone. If someone is being an idiot at the office, maybe they just had a fight with their spouse or maybe they’re in financial trouble or maybe someone they love is sick. Hey, its life, it happens. So, before you rail on them, pause. Don’t attack, just relax. Don’t complain, just explain. You’ll likely find there is more to that person than you realize. You may even find an opportunity to be there for them, like the above mentioned flight attendant. Sure, they may genuinely be a toxic, negative person. That happens too sometimes. If that’s the case, just walk away and forget it. Let it roll off your back, just like water off a duck. The thing to do with these people is avoid them.

Then, call your spouse and tell her or him you love them. Kiss and hug your kids. Call your parents to say you love them. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Breathe. Enjoy today. Enjoy now.

Business Travelers: I insulted someone this week.

Business travelers! I insulted someone this week and learned a lesson; one I believe you’ll want to know about. 

I travel a great deal.  I’m in hotels 200+ nights and fly over 150,000 miles a year. Want to know something else? I think I do my share of tipping. I have believed for a long time that we in the travel industry and those who are road warriors, need to set an example for everyone else when it comes to many things “travel,” tipping included.

Let’s start with the taxi drivers. I tip 20% for rides where the taxi was clean, the driver courteous and the ride smooth.  Dirty taxi? You lose 5%. Drive like Mario Andretti and make me nauseous? I’ll ask you to slow down.  If you don’t, you lose another 5% or more. Does your car reek of body odor or too much air freshener or cologne? You lose a couple of points there as well.  If the ride is under ten bucks, I tip 25% and start with the same deductions.  If you do something extraordinary, like say “Please” and “thank you” I offer more of a tip.  Help me with my bags? That’s a couple extra points as well. By the way, the lack of service in most taxis is why I use Uber as often as possible (though I’m disappointed to hear of recent price gouging accusations).

Next is hotel maid service.  I tip $3 a day when I stay in a hotel, leaving the money on the desk in the room before checking out.  I think this service is overlooked by many.  Sure, it “comes with the room” but why do these folks get shorted by most people?  They work hard to clean our rooms and make our beds; they should be rewarded for good service.

Here is where I learned a big lesson last week; tipping hotel porters and doormen.  Yes, I tip these folks as well.  I have one hotel at which I spend a great deal of time; more than 120 nights a year. The other day I arrived at the hotel, and the hotel porter, an older gentleman in his 60s, offered to take my bags.  I said “That’s okay, but thanks for asking.” I then offered him a few dollars because I watched so many people turn his service down.  His response: “Sir, thanks for the offer, but please let me earn it.”  There it was; by offering a tip, a truly honest gesture of goodwill, I insulted the man.  This was a man simply trying to earn a living, yet I offered charity.  I felt horrible.  I immediately placed my bags down, and said “I’d love for you to help me with my bags – thank you.”  Inside the lobby near the check-in area, he asked if I’d like help getting my bags to my room.  I, of course, said yes. All I have when I travel is a small roller bag and a briefcase (both with wheels) and I really did not need any help.  I navigate obstacles, shuttle busses, moving walkways and airplane aisles with ease (though remind me to tell you about an unfortunate accident where I skewered my own privates in a horrific escalator dismount).  Yet, by asking for help with my bags, I offered an opportunity for a older gentleman to earn a tip and prove, to all who watched in the lobby, that doormen and porters are still a useful hotel service.  What did I tip?  $8, about $1 for every minute he was with me. I wanted to give him more but I worried I’d insult him again with an over-tip.

The lesson?  While wheeled luggage makes it so easy for us to get around, we in travel and those who travel need to tip more. Let’s take care of the people who help us and those who work to preserve hospitality services we all remember so fondly. Somewhere, someplace, we made a maid smile and made a hotel porter feel like a man.

What advice do you have for tipping while traveling?

My favorite quotes

I’m going to keep adding to this list.  Let me know if you have any others you like.

If you want to be a knight, act like a knight. – Don Quixote


Remembering 9/11

Remembering friends and neighbors lost. Remembering not knowing where my wife was for hours and feeling so relieved when I heard her voice. Remembering wondering if my cousin and other friends made it out. Remembering finally realizing who didn’t. Remembering finding out about those who charged in to help others out, but who never made it out themselves. Remembering my next door neighbor who sat on the front stoop for days waiting for her husband who never did come home. Remembering those jumping from the towers to avoid the flames. I remember the smell of NY. I remember 9/11/01 and I will not forget it. Ever.

10 Reasons Why I Love Southwest Airlines – Hint: It’s just as much about the airports…

I’m writing this particular post, and it is a long one, to address all my friends and family who give me that look when I say I’m on a Southwest flight…. “Southwest? You?”  Yes, me. Apparently I am a travel snob, so read on.  (And remember, this is my personal view from personal experience and has nothing to do with the companies for whom I work or have worked.)

If you know me, you know most of my flying lately is, unfortunately, domestic.  You also know I *love* Southwest.  I’m on two or three Southwest flights a week. Truth is; I’ve been flying all my life, but I hadn’t flown them until four years ago.  All I knew about Southwest was they were the “wacky” airline.  Their flight attendants sang, you didn’t have assigned seating and apparently, they were a cult who would secretly brainwash you into never wanting to fly another airline again.  Boy, was I right.

As most of you know, I am from NJ.  Yes, I’m from Jersey.  Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.   Four years ago, I moved to (ready???) Indiana. Yep, I’m a Hoosier-in-training though I complain about the horrific pizza and the lack of real bagels in the state. While I’m in northwest Indiana, under 20 miles away from Chicago, it might as well be another planet because I actually believe it *is* another planet, but that’s another post.

Since I moved, I have worked, for the most part, either in NY or in DC, meaning I commute to work via plane.  For the first couple of months, I flew out of O’Hare to LaGuardia. O’Hare is big, but at 4:30AM, you manage just fine.

I’d normally fly another airline from O’Hare to LaGuardia.  Let’s just say my experiences were less than “okay.”  Sure I was “preferred” and got access to special security lines and to clubs.  While these special “privileges” made me feel important, the travel part was such a hassle, especially since so many others were part of this so-called “preferred” echelon.  It was hardly exclusive.

One day, I saw an announcement about Southwest starting flights to LaGuardia.  Price?  Next to nothing.  So, I thought I’d give it a try.  Southwest departs from Midway though and I’d never flown them and had only once flown into Midway before.  My first Southwest flight out of Midway changed my travel life forever.

Midway is the near perfect secondary airport; small (but not tiny), convenient and clean.  It has a sufficient amount of shops and eateries and you can practically park your car at the gate.  At 4:30 AM (to make a 6:00AM flight) it’s nearly empty.  It does get filled as the day progresses, but what airport doesn’t?

I have to admit, my first SWA flight was a bit confusing; it felt like the deli line at the supermarket, complete with numbered tickets (a.k.a. boarding pass).  The boarding passes are numbered; A1-A60, then B1-B60, then C1-C60.  You line up and board by number (A’s first, then B’s, then C’s) then you get on and sit where you like.  If you look confused while in the boarding area, these Southwest cult members (a.k.a. passengers) will gladly explain the system and even do so politely.  Really, everyone is nice and happy to point a new guy in the right direction.

The flight? Fun. Really, fun.  The first flight attendant announcement I heard included “We’ve got three of the best flight attendants in the sky. Unfortunately, none of those people were available, so you’re stuck with this crew.”  The oxygen announcement continued “if you’re traveling with children… or with your husband who acts like a child…..”  Half way to NYC, the flight attendant had the entire plane sing “happy birthday” for a child passenger.

They say companies should treat their employees the way they want their employees to treat their customers. I can only assume SWA employees are happy, because they “get” customer service.  If singing flight attendants, open seating and helpful seatmates don’t do anything for you, here are my top ten reasons I love Southwest Airlines.

  1. Employees give great service.  From the flight attendants to the gate agents to the stateside call center employees, these folks “get it” and prove it at every opportunity.  They even provide great service when things are not their fault.  On a trip from LGA to MDW two years ago, all flights were stopped in or out for hours due to a bad storm.  They made announcements regularly and after a couple of hours, even brought out food and drinks.  The other airline passengers at gates next to ours were screaming, saying “they get announcements, drinks AND food and you can’t answer a question for us?  Why didn’t I fly Southwest?”
  2. Secondary airports rock.  I’ll take Fort Lauderdale over Miami or Midway over O’Hare any day.  Traveling is hard enough and not having to cover long distances within an airport is nice.
  3. Earning free flights is easy.  Rapid Rewards has to be the easiest airline program out there. A little known secret; after “A-List” and “A-List Preferred” class, there’s something called “Companion Status” where if you fly enough with them (100 o/w flights), your spouse / companion can fly with you, on the same flight, for FREE…for a year! I defy you to find a better rewards program.
  4. Reasonable rates.  Book at least 14 days out for deals.  Anything less, I find the rates to be comparable to other airlines (yes and sometimes a bit more).  I actually book months out and get very reasonable rates.  Frankly, it’s because of Southwest that I and quite a few others can afford to commute to work.
  5. Specials and other internet fares are awesome, with some fares during sale times for as low as $59 each way.
  6. A great website.  Southwest.com is easy to use, always up to date and includes many utilities.  Want to book with points / miles? One click changes dollars to points. Want a list of all your current, future and past flights, two clicks.  Check in online? One click. And changes are easy too; changing from one flight to another is a breeze.  Their app is awesome too.
  7. Two bags fly free, at least for now.  Sure, fees here and there are increasing, but compared to what’s out there, I still find Southwest to be very reasonable with advance purchase.
  8. Southwest planes are the prettiest in the sky.  Not just the normal corporate colors, but thematically painted planes, like the Shamoo plane which looks like a huge killer whale for Orlando flights or flags covered in the Texas flag.  This makes flying fun for kids.
  9. Great for families. Speaking of kids, families get to board a bit earlier (but not before the most loyal passengers.) My wife and I each sit with one child and sit one row in front of the other.  It’s perfect family seating.
  10. Roomy seats.  I haven’t fretted about getting the other airline seats with extra leg-room because on Southwest, they all have plenty of leg-room.
  11. Yea, I have more than ten…. Again, you gotta problem with that? … Preferred Status also gets me priority lanes at security called “Fly by.”  Sure, you get this with the other guys, but on Southwest, if you’ve not yet reached Preferred Status, you can buy “Fly By” for $10 per person, per flight.
  12. Free wifi for “A-List” passengers.  Need I say more. Free and quick connections…

Now, I know there are those of you who look down on Southwest.  That’s okay, it’s not your fault.  I was one of you so I understand. You have been told for so long that special boarding lanes with colored carpets (on top of other airport carpet) means something.  You have been trained to watch, like Pavlov’s dog, at TV screens in hopes your name appears on the upgrade list. For me, whenever it appeared, I was always far down the list and rarely got an upgrade (because I was competing for the upgrade with international flyers who had three times the miles I did.) You do get airline clubs and that’s nice (but that is because you *need* it to make up for the rest of the flight experience.)  By the way, if you fly internationally, well then this post isn’t for you, but you already knew that.

So, now that I fly mostly domestic routes and after years of being trained to appreciate/need/want other airlines “benefits” I have made a change; I joined the elite group of travelers loyal to Southwest because this airline knows their business and treats me, well, like a customer. Imagine that.

Hi. Nice to smell you… 15 tips for being a considerate traveler.

Since I commute to another state for work, by plane, I regularly find myself in close quarters with other people.  Proximity is an amazing thing, especially as you travel.  Since I have traveled most of my life, I have always known that to be a good traveler, you must also be a considerate traveler.  After all, if *everyone* would do this, the travel experience would be so much more pleasant.  Below, I have assembled my list of the top 15 things you can do to be more considerate while you travel.  You’ll see a theme and this comes from something my Mom always tells me; “Be nice to people and they’ll be nice to you.”

  1. Perfume / cologne – Here’s the rule of thumb; Women, I should have to get close enough to kiss your neck to be able to smell your potion.  If I can smell you just by sitting next to or across from you, you have too much on, in my opinion.  If I can smell you in the elevator, after you have gotten out of the elevator, that’s just rude. Men, aftershave serves a purpose; it heals the skin after we tear it to shreds with a razor.  A little aftershave is okay.  No neck kissing here; I simply don’t want to smell you at all.  As for cologne, I know, your mom keeps buying you some for Christmas, but this does not mean you have to wear gallons of it.  When in doubt, just use a little.
  2. Electronics on planes – Turn off your electronic devices when the flight attendants ask. Seriously, this hide and seek game is silly.  How old are you?  Shut it off.  These rules apply to everyone, not everyone but you.  When the FAA finally says its okay to leave them on, then we’ll all do it.
  3. Flight attendants – Stop yelling at or speaking rudely to the flight attendants, especially for things out of their control. News flash; they don’t control the weather. They don’t make the rules either.  They are there for your safety. However, If you feel they are being rude, you could and should say something, but not if they’re reacting to *your* rudeness.  Also, they’re not your personal servants.  Call them, if you must, by pressing the call button, not outburst of “Hello. Excuse me!”
  4. Be nice –  Say “please” and “thank you.”  I’m amazed as I travel how many people don’t do this. When a flight attendant hands you your beverage, say “thank you.” When the doorman holds open your door, say “thank you.”  If you need some ketchup, ask the waiter nicely and say “please.”  Is this so hard?
  5. Can you hear me now?  – When listening to music on the plane, even if you are wearing ear buds in, make sure the person next to you can’t hear your music (read, because you are playing your music too loudly.)  If you’re into loud music (I am) use noise cancelling headphones on a plane.  As I type, The Who’s “Eminence Front” is blaring, but my seat mates can’t hear it.
  6. Arm rest wrestling – Don’t be a space hog; armrests are for sharing. Take turns or something, but the wrestling for the armrest is rude. The same goes for reclining your seat; give a quick look behind you and see if someone (yes, me) is working on a laptop before you nearly crush it with a recline forceful enough to split atoms.
  7. Excuse me, can you let me out? – If you, like me, have the bladder of a tree frog (read small), but love the window seat, well, pick one; bladder or view.   View or bladder.  I don’t care either way, but I don’t want to have to get up three times in a flight because you like to look at clouds in between visits to the potty.
  8. Clean up – And speaking of the potty; clean up after yourself in restrooms, especially on a plane.  Rinse and wipe down the sink and pick up any of your random (insert anything here) that you have left behind.
  9. Kids on a plane – Parents, I’ve written a dozen posts on how to be good travelers when you are with your kids.  I have kids and they’re always on planes with me. Here’s the rule of thumb; OVER-PARENT on planes. For infants, make sure you feed them a bottle during takeoff, so their ears don’t hurt (sucking on the bottle will help) and they start screaming. For toddlers, bring entertainment; think 15 minute attention spans; one coloring book is not going to cut it. Taking your children’s shoes off will keep them from kicking the seats in front of them.  I have lots of tips. Here’s a link to my most popular post on the subject “Tips for traveling with kids.”
  10. Drunks on a plane –  Speaking of “sucking on a bottle” – don’t get hammered on a plane. That’s just rude.  Sure a beverage or two will take the edge off, but getting blotto? Yea, ah…no.
  11. Here’s a tip – To tip or not to tip? I’m an over-tipper, but the rule of thumb is don’t be a cheap skate. You should leave hotel maids a few bucks a day if they kept your room nice and clean. Taxi drivers (who drive well enough for you not to get nauseous, and keep a clean, smell-free taxi) should get 15-20%. Come on, you know the drill; just because you’re traveling does not mean you shouldn’t tip. If someone works hard to give you good service, reward them. On the other side of that coin is “if they don’t, then don’t.”  I’m all for sending a message.
  12. When in Rome – Do you travel internationally? If so, get with the (local) program. Respect the local culture and customs. Learn a few words of the language (“please” and “thank you” are always good ones) for heaven’s sake.  I recall a trip to the Greek Island of Crete where an American counterpart was upset the restaurant didn’t have Tabasco.  News flash, Greeks don’t use it.  If it’s so critical to your skewered meat, bring some with you or better, go to Morocco… just sayin’.
  13. Share – Share with your seatmates.  Are you just about to enjoy a stick of gum? A triangle of Toblerone? An Oreo? If we’re going to be sitting next to one another for a while, what better way to start our relationship off on the right foot?
  14. Feet – And speaking of feet… Dear Lord, keep your shoes on!  If we’re about to embark on a long international flight, I understand you’ll want to take your shoes off.  I take mine off.  However, give your tootsies a pre-flight powder or something.  I’m not paying thousands of dollars to smell your feet.  Same goes for open sandals. If you’re a woman with pretty, manicured odorless feet, okay.  But if you have weathered, stinky, Fred Flintstone feet, keep them covered.
  15. Don’t do it – Finally, keep your fingers out of your nose or I’m going to call you out. Period.

Have any others I should add to this list?

Happy New Year!

Getting more followers-101: A few basic tips for travel pros and you

getting more social media followers

getting more social media followers

One of the questions I keep getting from travel professionals is “How do I get more social media followers?” and the answer is both simple and complicated.  At the end of the day, there are a few key things to remember; 1) people are looking for interesting people with interesting content with whom they would be willing to engage.  By “engage” I mean read, comment, post, tweet and re-tweet. 2) quality of friends / followers is important, but despite what you’ll hear, quantity is important as well.  After all, if you have 100% of your followers engaged, but you only have five followers, then you’re basically wasting your time. Your goal is to get as many actively involved, engaged friends, likes, followers and subscribers as possible.  This is an ongoing effort which should never end.

So, how do you create interesting content? Easier said than done, right?  Sure, we can all crank out a few blog posts we think are interesting, but keeping it flowing is a challenge.  For one thing, we’re all busy and writing interesting, meaningful and relevant blog posts takes time and effort.  I’m not sure about you, but I’m fairly overextended to begin with.  So, I have recently determined my “social” activity needs scheduling like everything else.  I now make “social time” a priority on my schedule, meaning I block time in the evenings or weekends to get to social media activities.  I even go so far as to block at least thirty minutes a day during the week, for my work accounts, to dedicate (almost exclusively) to social. This is in addition to the efforts put forth to “be social” in all my online reading, etc. and by that I mean I always share interesting reads, always comment when I have something to say and always re-post or re-tweet something I find interesting.  In all, I now dedicate about four a week to social media, including writing posts and scheduling them.  I write about topics about of which I’m passionate and knowledgeable.  Further, if you know me, you’ll know I am not short on at least these three things; opinions, humor and sarcasm. These help me keep my posts and tweets fun, dare I say provoking in some fashion. Yea, I’m from Jersey.  You got a problem with that?

The next thing to getting more followers is making sure you’re both socially engaged and a voracious reader. Yes, this requires more time. Find the best blogs in your field and read what others are saying.  This will not only keep you up to date, but educate you, thus validating your existing opinions or helping you form others.  Then, share, share, share.   Keep in mind one thing; not everyone, even your closest friends, will want to read everything you post.  Also, different platforms call for different sharing activity. Here are my personal sharing activities by platform.

Twitter: I try to post five times a day or more. Twitter is very “right now” and with the numbers of people posting, frequency helps you get noticed.  For me, Twitter is about A) promoting a blog post I’ve written, B) getting people to read and share articles of interest or, finally, C) point people to the promotions I’m pushing and to my public speaking events. Remember though, you only have 140 characters (120 if you’re writing something you hope to be re-tweeted) so you need to use them sparingly and in a fashion that begs to be clicked.  As an example, at a conference at which I’m speaking, one of the topics is about travel agent specialization.  In that speech, I tell agents why and how they should specialize.  The tweet for that event is “#travel agents, Specialize or Die” along with the link and ending with “via @johntpeters”.  Short and attention grabbing is the way to go on Twitter.  I normally have two types of tweets for this type of event.  In one, I link directly to the conference registration page.  In another, I link to my blog post which also tells people why they should attend.  Then, in that post, I link people to the conference registration page.  I use Hootsuite to schedule most of my posts and I work a few days ahead of time.  I normally spend all my “social” time on Sundays to schedule my tweets for Monday to Wednesday. As far as when these tweets *appear*, I post 80% of my tweets to appear during office hours.  I find these get re-tweeted far more frequently than my after-hours tweets. While we’re on the subject of re-tweeting, I do that as often as possible. For one, I find my followers like how I share posts I find interesting.  They take something I re-tweeted and then share it with their followers.  That is the idea after all.  Another reason to re-tweet is to “share the love” with others.  You RT them and they’re more likely to RT you.

Facebook is different. On Facebook, I post three or four times a day.  I normally do half of my posts for work and half for personal topics.  In all cases, I try to show the human side of me.  I’m a card-carrying member of “TMI” (too much information) and am often more of an over-sharer than not. So, to be friends with me on Facebook means you’ll hear about me, my family, my opinions and a variety of sarcastic comments.  Sure, I also post about professional items, work projects and any speaking engagements, but in most cases, I do try and make people laugh. After all, we don’t laugh enough anymore.  On Facebook, I also post pictures and videos.  These might be direct from my iPhone or via Instagram (complete with image filters).  On Facebook, I often post (what I hope to be) thought provoking comments.  These might include questions about favorite vacations, funniest kids questions or quotes or pretty much anything that comes to mind I find interesting.

I’m going to cover Google+ in another post.  I’m on the platform, I use it and have recently really started to see the promised SEO coverage, so I’m inclined to keep at it.  I’m no expert though and have no real case study to show I’m successful there. I’m just being honest.

In all cases, I follow/friend/like people and companies I enjoy, read, respect, use.  I’m not following anyone because it will get me more followers.  I LIKE Huffington Post because I like their coverage. I didn’t LIKE Williams Sonoma’s Facebook page this morning for any other reason than Roasted Chicken & Brie Frittata I cooked using their recipe was a big hit at breakfast.

Finally, I’m not perfect.  I am sometimes too busy to post, too tired to be a voracious reader or too knee-deep in work and kids to do all the things I’ve listed above.  Life, after all, just happens.

If you’ve found this post useful or at the least intriguing, follow me on twitter (@johntpeters) or on Facebook.  If not, read it again. You obviously weren’t paying attention the first time around.  See? Sarcasm.

The greatest distraction at work…ELIMINATED in an instant.

Ivan Pavlov


Pavlov's Dog

Remember the story of Pavlov and his dog? His dog was conditioned to start drooling when he heard a bell because he knew food was coming.  Imagine the distraction…DING! Thoughts disrupted. Concentration lost. Eyes darting.  This describes not only Pavlov’s dog, but it describes me as well. Let me explain.

No, I don’t think of food when I hear a bell (at least not always), but I can tell you, when that email notification (DING!) sounds and the message notification appears, I check to see what email message has arrived. By this, I mean I glance at the lower right portion of my screen to see who has emailed me.  Unfortunately, this happens 150 to 200 times a day.  DING! Oooh look…shiny object!

What on *earth* is so important that I lose my train of thought?  Many of us have been conditioned to read email (at least the title and sender) when we see/hear that email has arrived. Why? Likely it’s because so many people expect an immediate answer, as if I have nothing else to do but stop what I’m doing and respond to you (er, except you boss).  Worse, they’ll call asking if I got their email.  For the record, I’m okay with the phone call if you have an urgent question.  By all means, for complicated questions and answers, I’d much rather spend a few minutes on the phone versus responding via email.  However, in a previous professional life, everyone kept and filed every single email as the ultimate CYA (“cover your a**) insurance.  That was horrific.  Even after a phone call, they’d send you an email reiterating what you just covered on the phone.

A few years back I trained myself to simply glance at the sender without going to my Outlook main page.  I thought this was a good start at freeing myself from Outlook Prison. I was doing okay until my email messages started coming in ten at a time.

These days, if I get an email from my boss or an important client, I respond right away. Otherwise, I keep working.  Honestly however, even the glances at the email alerts distract me.  So today, I tried something new; I turned off the email notification entirely. No DING!. No message indicator. Nothing.  I also did something else; I put two, one-hour blocks of time on my calendar, every day, to answer email, first at 10:30AM, followed by another block at 2:30PM.  Then, I checked one last time at the end of the day and answered some emails, though not all.  Some emails will simply have to wait until tomorrow.

I have to admit, I think I was more efficient today.  I have more work to do, like sending a dozen or so auto emailed reports I receive daily to a reports folder for reading later.

By the way, since I share my calendar with a few people, my time blocks list “I’m working – emergency interruptions only” as the activity.  That should keep people away for a while.  I also shut my office door. When this stops being an effective deterrent to interruptions, I’ll change it up.  I’ve been known to put meetings on my calendar with luminaries, alive and dead.  You have to admit, when you look at someone’s calendar and it says “Telcon with Elvis” or “Lunch with Margaret Thatcher” people hesitate to interrupt.

My blocked time was very effective until I got a few text messages (rats!).  None of them were urgent by the way. Texting, as you know, is the new email. This is just what we need; more distractions.

I will keep you updated as things progress.  Until then, do you have any email management techniques or other helpful hints to avoid distractions during the day?