Ryan Welton

Sports + Digital + Music + Life

Category Archives: Business

4 business takeaways from the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals

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When the Washington Nationals saw Bryce Harper escape to Philadelphia, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect the Nats to slip. Most baseball people said that the club was still quite talented, but I don’t think anybody expected this.

When the Washington Nationals were 19-31, it would have been easy for the team to go into sellers’ mode, looking to shuffle some pieces around and plan for 2020 or beyond.

Instead, they decided to Stay In The Fight (#StayInTheFight), as manager Davey Martinez implored them to do.

There are so many lessons we can learn from the 2019 World Series champs, whether it be in baseball or in life. I rooted for the Nats throughout their playoff run largely because I grew to like them during the regular season. Much like the NBA champs from earlier this year, the Toronto Raptors, baseball’s new kings were comprised of a bunch of good guys. My opinion, of course.

I root for people more than I do uniforms, and I sensed that the Nats could make a run, especially when their bullpen finally got its act together. Heck, I even predicted it on Twitter.

 

That’s not to pat me on the back, that’s to say that I don’t believe the Washington Nationals were that much of a surprise or a fluke. They had some important characteristics of winners and winning teams from all walks of life. I want to detail some truths we can take away from the World Series champs.

1. Great chemistry beats good talent. I look at the Dodgers and the Yankees, two clubs with extraordinary talent. I see them as a collection of supremely talented individuals but without a strong team vibe. The Nats were 25 guys pulling on the same rope.

To be fair, I think the Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays also have great chemistry — although I also think there is something to be said for the whole Houston, Russell Osuna, Brandon Taubman situation being a massive karmic meteorite crashing onto Planet Astros. But nobody had the good-guy chemistry that the Nats had, and I think that chemistry was set in motion with the departure of Harper.

2. Age is just a number. The Nationals were the oldest team in baseball, and only Hunter Strickland had ever won a World Series with any team. I believe that experience led them to work smarter and not harder throughout all their series. Plus, experience gave them peace in understanding what was possible when they got behind, which they did often, so that they wouldn’t panic.

Age isn’t about being stale and slow. It’s “been there, done that” and got the proverbial t-shirt.

Teams (of all types) are always looking to get younger, and I’m not sure that’s the wisest strategy.

3. You need to be able to have fun as a team. Did you see the Nationals’ home run celebrations? They were the equivalent of orchestrated touchdown dances. My favorite was the revving-the-cars celebration in the dugout. Did you hear their team anthem, “Baby Shark?” Started by Gerardo Parra, the ‘Baby Shark’ thing started much earlier this year, and it grew sea legs. Having fun together builds chemistry and alleviates pressure.

4. Keep your head in the game. That’s the essence of the Stay In The Fight mantra. It means doing the little things. It means staying focused. It means persevering, even in the face of long odds. Best piece of advice from a boss I’ve ever gotten was to keep my head in the game. She told me, “The main thing I ask of anybody on this team is to ‘keep your head in the game.'”

It helped that Davey Martinez encapsulated it in such a pithy phrase: Stay In The Fight.

For the business team, it might be something like, “Put The Customer First, Always.” Or it might be “The Deadline Is Now,” as it is in our Tulsa newsroom.

Anyway, if I were a baseball GM, I’d be moderately concerned about on-the-field talent, but I’d be obsessed about individual EQ, team chemistry and organizational culture. I’d have a “no jerks” rule, regardless of talent. And my manager would be a world-class communicator, not somebody who obsesses over all the analytics.

Sure, the production has to be there.

But if you nail the intangibles and the production is worthy, you’ve got a chance to have something special.

Why voice-activated customer service sucks, a.k.a. Suddenlink is the worst

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It might be hard to write this without coming off as self-righteous because just as there is bad customer service, there are bad customers. But, man, does customer service suck these days. It’s worse than ever, and we just put up with it.

One example came to light days after Mom’s death, when I had the task of getting her utilities put into my name while we sold her house and/or shutting off other utilities. It meant that I had to call a call center.

There are few hells quite like calling a call center.

And that brings me to the ultimate premise of my post: why is that the government doesn’t regulate voice-activated customer service systems? Shouldn’t public companies be forced to give you a “Press 0 to speak with a customer service representative” up front?

I think they should.

We know why companies don’t do it. It’s because they don’t want you talking to a person who costs them money. I don’t extend that so far as to say it’s because the company doesn’t care about its customers. On the contrary, companies try to keep labor costs down to keep prices down, which ultimately benefits the greatest number of people. It’s why only three checkout lanes are ever open at any given WalMart.

Long story short, I had to make contact with three companies initially: AEP (which owns Public Service of Oklahoma), Oklahoma Natural Gas and Suddenlink Communications. I needed to let them know my mother had died and that the bill needed to be sent to me for the foreseeable future. In the case of Suddenlink, I needed to shut off internet and cable service.

I’ll start with the good, actually great. AEP’s voice system gives its customers a “speak with a customer service” option pretty close to the top. And they were empathetic, friendly and efficient. Loved them.

Next came ONG, Oklahoma’s natural gas provider. They weren’t bad, but it took awhile to get to a human. Once I did, they were empathetic and efficient.

However, my experience with Suddenlink Communications might rank as an all-time worst. First, they have no “speak to a human option” in their voice-activated menu. To me, this is extra bad when you consider that municipal governments contract with these vendors. Cities should hold these businesses to a higher standard, and citizens should hold their representatives to account.

I had to trick the system into getting me a human.

And when I reached Charisma (ironic), I explained my situation. She started asking me for pin numbers and or a SSN, identification marks of some sort, and I get it. However, I reminded her that ultimately there would be no privacy complaint because their customer was dead.

Mind you, this is after 15 to 20 minutes (no exaggeration) of sitting on the other end of a phone, time completely wasted.

Charisma proceeded to explain that I’d need to drive the equipment an hour to their Muskogee office, an hour from Mom’s residence of Henryetta because that Suddenlink office had been closed. I was later told by a Suddenlink employee that they had brought in a manager to run the Henryetta office only to close it two months later.

My other options to return the equipment were to mail it in at my expense or toss it all in the Arkansas River and pay a fine. I’m only sort of kidding about that last option.

Where I have a beef is in comparing this experience to my delightful experience with DirecTV. When I abandoned them for Cox Communications a few months ago, I was able to take the equipment to a UPS Store and have a UPS employee take care of it from there. It’s a brilliant arrangement they have, great customer service that I’ve seen repeated by UPS especially over the years.

So, my brother and I drive to Muskogee to return all of their cable equipment.

After some cordial conversation and the junior employees lamenting their own company by telling us the story of why they didn’t have a Henryetta office, I wrote a check, explaining to them that we only had temporaries as we could not write a check from Mom’s account and had to create a new one — and, yes, I know I could have just paid myself and had my brothers Venmo me their share.

At this point, I kind of hated them and wasn’t going to budge.

But they were cool with a temporary check until it was written and a manager stepped onto the floor and said she wouldn’t take it.

I assured them it was good and that we didn’t plan to be continuing customers.

She said she wouldn’t take it.

And I told her she would or not get paid, and added, “It’s done,” walking away in disgust.

The experience was bad from the start because Suddenlink Communications didn’t even pretend in its voice-activated customer service system to be interested in connecting one person to another, and a conversation in this instance could have soothed everything.

The free market types will be saying, “More regulation? No way.” Why burden companies with having to hire more customer service representatives when customers can take care of basic tasks themselves.

The problem is that many tasks are not basic, and the customer shouldn’t bear the burden of fighting through corporate frugality to get some help. Online chat helps somewhat for some companies, but not everybody is digital. Not everybody can see. Not everybody can hear. Not everybody can walk or talk, and yet there have been strides made over the years to give people equal access under the law.

This wouldn’t be as socially important as that, not by any means. However, being able to talk to a customer service representative for any publicly traded company should be part of a customer’s bill of rights, a simple Federal Trade Commission protection that big government can give the little people.

As for Suddenlink Communications, in a moment when a little empathy would have gone a long way, they made every effort to come off as massive butt-heads. They’re the worst.

The 3 basics of 21st Century digital public relations

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The biggest purpose of this blog post is to help small businesses that have zero idea on how to navigate a communications or public relations strategy. Sure, you could hire a firm, but cash flow is king. You might prefer to try to do it yourself.

And you can.

It isn’t easy.

But it’s not rocket science.

This is your guide to 21st Century digital public relations with a focus on what will help those of you who own or manage small businesses.

The first thing you’ll want to do is to learn the media landscape of your community or city. Start liking, following, getting to know your local reporters. Be active on media sites so that stations and reporters know who you are. Establish yourself as being friendly to the grand media complex, and provide value when you can.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that name recognition and respect is your first step in capturing attention with media entities. That can backfire, too, especially if what you eventually submit to a newspaper or TV station isn’t regularly on point.

Your action items: Create a list of all your local TV stations, newspapers, influential blogs, etc. Go like them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Be a regular commenter with quality takes or value-added information.

The second thing to do is to learn how to craft a press release. Many marketers will tell you that content marketing is king in 2018, and it’s definitely important — but your first and best opportunity to capture the attention of reporters, editors and producers is to know how to put together a killer press release.

What makes a great press release? I’d say the most important thing is to be sure that your press release isn’t merely a collection of words. It needs to have a quality hi-res photo and other multimedia, such as a link to video or b-roll that the newspaper or station can use. First, a high-quality photo captures the attention of newsroom folks who have to sift through hundreds of emails. Second, multimedia provides a station or paper with art they can use in their story. You’re doing them a solid, and it’s appreciated.

Ultimately, your press release has to communicate newsworthy information that goes beyond promoting your business. Aside from the grand opening or your restaurant or store, there aren’t many promotions that are strictly one-way that will truly capture the interest of folks in the Fourth Estate.

Don’t take it from me. Heed the advice of one of the most respected folks in the industry, Serena Erlich. I got to know her during my time in corporate communications with Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores. She always has top-notch advice, and she’s a staunch defender of the press release, as am I. If you’re going to “be a media company,” you have to know how to capture the attention of newsies.

There’s no better way than to master the basics of a 21st Century press release.

Your action items: If you don’t have the cash to spend on a quality public relations firm with pros who have their APR, then learn the basics of writing a press release. Brush up on your photography skills, and learn how to create and edit video. I’ll put together a blog on the basics of writing a press release soon. However, there are also a ton of resources out there.

The third thing to do is to not depend on the press to amplify your message. Let’s say you create that press release, and you get no traction. You need to know how to amplify it yourself through social media, social advertising and content marketing.

That doesn’t mean posting your press release to Facebook and expecting magic to happen. That means crafting some verbiage in concert with an appealing image or images or video and styling it to work with Facebook and Instagram. Twitter is nice with its 300M users, but if it’s me, you’d be focused on Facebook and Instagram with a combined 2.8B users.

Your action items: After you send that press release to your media list, re-create that same message in the form of social posts, blogs, you name it and amplify using organic and paid mechanisms. Spread the word yourself.

Those are the three basics of 21st Century digital public relations. However, I’d add this: Any given story or event or promotion has a life cycle unto itself. There is pre-promotion. There is the event. There is post-mortem. Creating a press release and sending it to your media peeps with a little bit of amplification on your own ahead of the event and then calling it a day is a recipe for disappointment. You need to master the press release, but you can’t stop there.

Ideally, you’re seeking the help of media to cover your business. However, you’re prepared to do it yourself — and you start well before and end well after, making your piece of news feel less like a one-time thing and more like an event that demanded attention throughout because it was so compelling.

Again, I’ll take this manifesto of sorts and break it down over the coming weeks. But if you’re a small business owner or manager who intends on doing this yourself, this post gives you a sense of the scope of everything you’re about to undertake.

Photo credit:
Paolo Negri, link here:

 

Amazon Go vs. Walmart grocery pickup + my first-ever podcast

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Among the big developments this weekend, I created a podcast. Note that I didn’t say I created an awesome podcast; rather, I created an audio file of me talking that I uploaded to SoundCloud and to this app called Anchor.

SoundCloud is pretty straight forward. You upload files, and you get space, and to get a lot of space, you pay money. I pay $15 per month for unlimited space, or at least I think it’s unlimited. On the other hand, the folks behind Anchor want you to podcast with your phone and pretty much only your phone, although they do give you ways to get audio files to their platform. It had been advertised to me as a one-stop podcasting shop, a place where you could upload your podcast and then distribute it everywhere.

That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The biggest benefit of SoundCloud that I can see thus far is that it creates an RSS feed for you that you can then submit to iTunes to be included in their podcasts. Having done a couple basic attempts at creating an Alexa briefing, I wonder if I could have just used the RSS feed from my SoundCloud.

But I digress.

If you’d like to listen to my first podcast, I’d appreciate it but wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It’s rough. And I’m working through topical concepts. My first episode was a bit business-oriented with a dash of “WTF” in that I document some personal experiences from the past week. Initially, I’m thinking I’d podcast once a week although I enjoyed the process enough that I could see myself doing it much more often.

The moniker that comes to mind is “Gray Hair, New Media.” I talk a lot about new media of all types, and I do have a slightly unique perspective in that I’m a bit older than a lot of players in this space. As I inch toward AARP eligibility (2020), I envision my perspective as one that will be in demand mostly because it’s in shorter supply.

And one of the topics I broached was my little ol’ weekend trip to Walmart. I typically go to Crest or Walmart, and it depends on whether what I’m getting is strictly groceries or wares beyond food and personal items. I enjoy Target, but low prices for basics is my jam, and Walmart beats Target most of the time. For the record, I have few moral objections to Walmart and would make the argument that providing the masses with consumer goods at the lowest possible price is damned noble. In my eyes, most of the objections people have to Walmart are mostly steeped in classism.

Don’t @ me.

When Walmart started its grocery pickup service, I had to try it. They botched my order, leaving out multiple items and charging me for them. I tried it a second time, and they got closer. However, this third time, I noticed something right off the bat: the prices I was being charged were noticeably higher online than what they are in the store. For example, a three-pack of Extra gum that normally costs me $1.98 in-store was $3.01 online.

A 28-pack of water was $4.73 online instead of $3.98, and Great Value French Roast coffee was $5.47 for a 12-pack instead of $4.47. The other item I noticed was a 6-pack of Dove soap, which was going for $8.12 online instead of $6-something.

I’m familiar with the concept of variable online pricing based on demand and other market factors. Walmart isn’t the only retailer to do this; however, they’re also not hiding it. In this Wall Street Journal article from last November, company representatives note that charging higher prices for items online is a ploy to get people to go in-store more often.

Which leads me to this: I *could* just go to Target.

There are few who would argue that the actual shopping experience isn’t way better at Target. The store is nicer. The items are nicer. But when I’m buying dish soap, lowest price wins. Every time.

Except for the fact that in 2018, lowest price is up against “saving time” more than it ever has been. It’s been said that Uber was never actually a transportation company; they’re an efficiency company. They exist to save you time. The reason podcasts are more popular than ever is because it’s something one can consume passively, such as during a commute, the proverbial killing-two-birds-with-one-stone thing.

There are a couple product reasons I go to Walmart. First, their French Roast coffee is the shit. Seriously, it’s the best French Roast coffee I’ve had, and I mean better than Starbucks or any other boutique brand. And their ‘Sam’s Choice’ water bottles are the sturdiest bottles in water-land. Again, don’t @ me: I recycle all of them.

However, Walmart’s strategy to charge more for grocery pickup — we’re not even talking delivery — is off-putting. The reason I want to pick up my groceries is to save time and because I don’t want to waddle alongside the masses in Walmart, which isn’t a product of classism as much as it is reflective of my introvert ways.

I can find alternatives to the two products I like. Def.

And that brings me to Amazon Go, the new “no checker” flagship store in Seattle.

At a senior management meeting while at Love’s last year, I told executives that in my estimation, their biggest competitor wasn’t Pilot Flying J as much as it was Amazon. Everybody’s competing with Amazon, especially in retail.

If you haven’t heard about Amazon Go, it’s a store where you don’t have to have interaction with anybody. You just load up your items and go. First, you have to download an app, and it gets swiped when you walk into the store. There are hundreds of camera hanging from the ceiling that can see what you load into your bag or backpack, and they’re looking at RFID information and basic bar codes although I don’t know exactly how their system reads everything.

Amazon is highly confident in this system, so much so that if a person gets charged for something they didn’t actually buy, they don’t need to come back to the store. Just wipe it from your bill, no questions asked. And if you don’t get charged for something, it’s on the house at least for now. The big drawback to this type of a store is that, spread out across the country over a few years, it’s liable to wipe out about 3 million checker jobs, jobs that won’t come back immediately.

Sure, there could be better jobs that develop from a new system of retail that depends much more heavily on service and technology. However, it’s possible that those new jobs don’t happen for years or even decades after these initial jobs are wiped out.

Plus, that type of shopping experience isn’t going to come with a promise of low prices, every day. At the outset, given the long lines at Seattle’s flagship store, there’s no real hope of convenience. For now, it’s just cool — and it is cool. However, if I really wanted a shopping experience without personal interaction at the very lowest prices, I would forgo both Walmart and anything like an Amazon Go and just order stuff off Amazon with my Prime account.

Can’t beat grocery shopping in your pajamas at 1 a.m., am I right?

 

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