Are You Setting Yourself Up For Failure

The Situation:

My job entails a lot of travel and that has resulted in me amassing a decent number of miles on an airlines frequent flier program.

A few weeks back, I got an email from the airline announcing that they will equip their aircrafts with wi-fi and if I downloaded an app, I shall be able to have access to an array of inflight entertainment options.

I love watching movies. This was exciting news for me as it gave me an opportunity to catch up on movies that I had missed watching when they originally screened.

So, excitedly, I downloaded the app and was eagerly looking forward to my next trip on the airlines, which was coming up in the next couple of days.

On the day, I board the aircraft and eagerly ask the flight attendant about the wi-fi access. I was then informed by the attendant that the aircraft that we were flying was not equipped with this feature as yet. Though I was disappointed, I was looking forward to actually having access to all the movies soon.

On my return trip, I asked the check-in clerk if the aircraft that I was about to board had the in-flight entertainment system and realized that she had no idea about what I was talking. So, I asked the flight attendant and was yet again informed that this particular aircraft was not equipped with this feature yet. It was disappointing.

On my next flight, which was a much more busier sector (Bangalore – Mumbai), I tried to find out again  and was informed by the cabin-crew in-charge (yes, I did ask her this time, not relying on anyone else) that this feature was enabled, every time an aircraft went for its scheduled maintenance. For the in-flight entertainment to be made available on all the flights would easily take more than a month.

I have flown atleast three more sectors since the announcement and I am yet to see in-flight entertainment in the airline.

What Went Wrong:

This made me think – what made the airline announce this feature so far ahead of time, when almost none of their aircraft was equipped to offer this facility to their customers?

The only effect this left with their customers is a feeling of disappointment every time they flew on an aircraft that was not equipped with this feature.

This is a classic example of setting yourself up for failure Click To Tweet

What Would I Have Done:

If I were the person responsible for this communication at the airline, I would have done two things differently:

  1. I would NOT HAVE sent out an email announcing this feature to all the passengers. I would wait for them to come on-board and once they are there, I would announce this on the in-flight announcement system and request the passengers to download the app to make use of in-flight entertainment. This would have served two purposes – it introduces an element of positive surprise, which increases the customer satisfaction levels. And these passengers would then go out and tell their family members, friends and colleagues about this app. This makes them an insider along with the airline and makes them look cool. Again, this increases customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. This also creates word-of-mouth publicity for the airline.
  2. I would wait for atleast 50% aircrafts to have the facility before announcing this either on email or in-flight.


5 Questions you could ask yourself, before sending out product announcements Click To Tweet
  1. Is there any benefit of letting our customers discover this for themselves, rather than us announcing it (if it is possible)?
  2. Can we enable our customers to spread the word about this rather than us doing this? Can we make our customers look good to their followers (on social media and social settings) when they spread the word about this?
  3. Is this the right time for me to communicate this to my customers? Is there any benefit of delaying this further?
  4. Is this the right medium for me to communicate this to my customers? Is there a better medium available?
  5. What do we want our customers to feel and do, once they become aware of this? How can we help them with this?

Answering these questions honestly will enable you to not set yourself up for failure, like the airlines did when it pre-announced the availability of its in-flight entertainment system.

So, the question that we all need to answer is the following:

Are you doing something that is setting yourself up for failure?

Lessons in Marketing and Customer Engaement from A Hilarious TED Talk


I recently stumbled on to this hilarious TED talk by a British comedian – James Veitch.

Firstly, I would urge you to watch the TED Talk below:

Lessons from this TED Talk:

1. Unsubscribe

First and the most obvious lesson for marketers is for us to honour our subscribers wish to unsubscribe, by actually taking them off the list.

One of the ways to do is by a double unsubscribe process:

  • First you thank them for having been on the list for so long. You could potentially give them a parting gift, if that is in line with your brand personality.
  • Second, request if they would like to be taken off the list completely or if they would like to hear about certain topics and not get any information about anything else. Here make it absolutely clear and easy for them them select from a given option. The trick is that it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds.

What is important is to be as thankful for the time that they spent on your list and respectful of the subscribers time and their decision to move on.

2. How We Write to Our Customers

Every time we connect with our subscribers, we need to think through from the point-of-view of our subscribers about what would they find of value.

In the example that James talks about, we need to think if our subscribers (like James) would genuinely be excited about the opening of a new store or is there something else that they would be excited about that could be linked to the opening of the new store. Maybe, it could be the opportunity to meet their favourite celebrity at the opening or an offer to be invited to shop at the store even before the shop opens to public or maybe to get a significant discount voucher to go shopping on the day the shop opens! Alternately, if we can’t come up with something like that, we refrain from send out a series of email announcing the opening of the store. Instead we just send out one email a day before the store opens announcing that the new store would be open tomorrow.

We need to know our subscribers and their needs and wants and what will excite them and find a way to link that to our objective.

We need to understand that by giving their email ID’s by subscribing to our list, our subscribers are trusting us with their time and attention – two of the most scarce things that they can part with. We as marketers, need to respect that and add value to their lives, every time we expect them to add value to us by spending their most precious and scare things (time and attention) with us.

3. Being Personal

One of the most irritating or annoying thing that we could do to our customers is to send canned responses. All of us know when we see one. Our subscribers know when they see one.

It is extremely important to be personal and real when we are talking to our customers/subscribers. Instead of copy/pasting a canned response, which save some time for our customer service executives, it is easier to send a personal response or no response at all.

Instead of writing to them that you will get back in a couple of days, just get back with the answers as soon as you can. While it is good to set expectations, it is not a good idea to set unrealistic expectations. I have brands send out an auto-responder telling me that it will take 7 working days to give me a response.

In a world where everything is instant, no one wants to wait for 7 working days to get a response to an email. Instead of setting a realistic expectations, the brand succeeded in created a negative impression on me.

4. Automation – Case #

We all know that brands always give out a case # or a complaint # or something similar when one of their customers reach out to the brand through one of the channel. This is to help the brand keep track of this interaction and for them track the relevant information about the customer/subscriber/prospect, when they reach out the next time.

What surprises and really irritates me is that way these case # are assigned. They are long numbers or an alpha numeric string that as a customer there is no way that i can remember or make sense to me. Clearly, no one has thought through this from the customer’s point-of-view. If done so, there are multiple ways to not only make it easy for the customer to remember the case # but also potentially help the brand build more brand affinity.

One simple way to do it is to use the email ID of the customer and add numbers (001) as the case #. Every time that the brand gets a new transaction from the customer that needs to be tracked, the number count goes up by 1. This also tells the customer how many times that they have interacted with the brand, which is a subconscious reminder to themselves, that they value the brand. If the experience of the interaction is good, it increases the brand affinity in the customer.


This TED talk by James is hilarious because it is so true. All of us can relate to the experience James had in this particular instance as we all have gone through a similar experience at some point in time.

The question we need to ask is the following –

Is this the best that we, as brands can do?

And the most important lesson for all of us is what James concludes his video with: 

If you are weighed down by the mundanity of modern life, don’t fight the frustration, let it be the catalyst for whimsy.

Make a game out of it and have some fun.. 

The Art of Customer Delight – Every Little Thing Matters

Customer Delight

I was out shopping with my wife and son at a large 3 floor retail outlet. We were looking to buy something for all three of us and as is normal, spent quite a bit of time at the store.

It was then that I felt thirsty. I approached an employee and the conversation that took place was something like this:

Me: I am feeling thirsty. Can you pls tell me where can I find some water?

Employee: Sir, you need to go to the 2nd floor. That is where you will find the water filter.

Me: Don’t you have any water available on this floor?

Employee: No sir. We only have one water filter and that is available on the 2nd floor.

Me: So, if you want to drink water, you also have to go to the 2nd floor?

Employee: Yes and No. We are required to carry a water bottle that we fill and keep with ourselves. But that is for our own use. For customers, the water is available at the water filter on the 2nd floor.

And I was on the Ground floor.

So, I went back to the 2nd floor, found the water filter tucked in a corner. I was a bit miffed at the fact that the store did not have a water filter available on each floor. It doesn’t cost much. But, then forgot about this all together.

Until the next time, I visited another retail store, similarly large.

This time, i was curious to find out if this retailer had water available at each floor. To my surprise (or maybe not so much of a surprise), I found that this retailer also had water available only at one of its floor.

I tried to check this at almost every large retailer in Bangalore and found the same to be true.

Now, the question that i have is the following:

Why cant a high end retailer doesn’t care about customer (and employee) comfort, when it comes to little things like this?

It doesn’t cost them much to have a water filter at every floor of the retailer.

Though it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue at a superficial level, but at a deeper level is a big issue. By not doing this small and not so important a thing, you are setting an example and telling your employees and customers that their comfort doesn’t matter.

This also sets a culture where employees are not keyed in to delight customers.

It is these small things that when done well, delight your customers.

These also set the ball rolling and sets a culture of thinking about the comfort of your customers at the centre of all your decisions.

This also tells your employees that the customer and his comfort matters, however small their request is.

So, what is your water filter problem? How do you plan to address it?

Lessons in Being Remarkable from an Unlikely Place – A Museum

6cf5d187-8bc3-454f-ba4e-1b9b437c2cb2This post is for everyone of us who is responsible for creating experiences for our customers.

I visited the Paper Museum in Basel yesterday and was blown away by the experience.

We have all visited museums.. These visits are all about soaking in the information, try to appreciate the art, read about the exhibits, click a few pictures and go back home.

This experience was different.

The museum was spread over 4 floors. Each floor was clearly divided into categories like paper production, type, print, etc.

Each floor also had the possibility for a visitor to participate in the experience by creating something new. For example, I made a sheet of paper, used a quill pen and a dip pen to write a letter to my family, got the letter sealed in a cover using wax.

I set type on a printing machine and printed the type to understand first hand how type was set, how difficult it was for someone to set it and now the entire experience is etched in my memory.

I also wrote a letter to my son using a Remington type writer.

I made art using oil paints dropped on water using an age old process.

So, what did I learn from this experience of being engaged in the museum that I can apply in my work:

Break mental models:

Research shows us that our brains doesn’t process all the inputs it gets, as that would create sensory overload and too much cognitive power. What it does is process patterns. For example, if you are in a strange place and all of a sudden all lights go off, you get more alert. However, if you are sitting in a cinema hall and all of a sudden all lights go off, you get more relaxed. These are mental models that we have created that helps us navigate the world without sensory overload.

What the museum did was to break the mental model of what it looks and feels like to go to a museum – being passive content consumer! We don’t go to a museum expecting to make stuff and engage with other visitors.

In order to get your customers to sit up and take notice of you, your products and services, you need to get into their awareness and breaking their mental models gives you their complete attention.

In order to be able to do this, you need to exactly know their mental models and what they expect from you, your product/service, what is the story that they are telling themselves when they get in contact with you.

Engage contextually:

Once you have their attention and awareness, what you do with that matters significantly. You need to engage with them, contextually. For example, I was visiting a paper museum, which meant that i was interested in knowing more about paper and its history.

What better way of learning about paper to actually make paper? what better way of learning about the earliest writing instruments but by actually using one? what better way of learning about the earliest type-writers than by experiencing one? See where this goes. This is extremely contextual.

In order for this to happen, we need to know exactly what is the context in which the customer has come into contact with you? What were they trying to achieve? What were their expectations from their contact with you?

Once you know these, then we/our product/service needs to be able to engage with the customer in such a way that enhances the experience that the customer goes through while at the same time helping them achieve what their original intent was.

Its the small things that matter:

I was prodded by an employee of the museum to write a letter to my wife/son as I was alone in the museum. That small little act of making me think of my family when I was alone made this entire experience a lot more personal for me, which also made it more memorable.

These small things that doesn’t cost anything are what really matter and are the most  difficult to get right, as it requires that you have done a lot of other things well – you have engaged & thoughtful employees – which means that you have recruited & trained them well, created a culture which appreciates these small thoughtful gestures and have created an environment where such small things are routinely made possible.

Its the small things that matter the most.

And yes, I highly recommend that you visit the Paper Museum in Basel if you happen to be there.

PS: You may also want to listen to Seth Godin talk about being remarkable in the below video as well.



PBTO23: Building Fiercely Loyal Communities – @SarahRobinson

Building Fiercely Loyal Communities

In today’s episode, we host Sarah Robinson. She is an author, keynote speaker, entrepreneur and a consultant.

In my opinion, she has great ideas about how to create fiercely loyal communities.

In this free wheeling conversation, we talk about the importance of building a fiercely loyal community, what defines a fiercely loyal community and how can brands go about building this kind of fiercely loyal communities.

Most important learnings from the conversation:

  • In a world where consumers and customers can share their experiences with each other, the relevance and importance of advertising and marketing messages is constantly shrinking.
  • People today have the ability to form communities with or without the support of a brand.
  • Brands with fiercely loyal communities seem to be much more profitable and much more loved than other brands. Harley Davidson, Apple, GoPro being cases in point.
  • The biggest challenge for a brand to support a community is the fear of letting go of control over their brand.
  • A community is fiercely loyal if
    • They are proud of the brand and are willing to flaunt it.
    • They trust the brand and the members of the community itself.
    • They are a tribe of passionate people.
  • Things that brands can do to enable their communities are
    • Create connection points
    • Create support points
    • Bring in predictability
  • Building a fiercely loyal community is about doing the basics of business right (good product, good support, good strategy, etc) and allowing your customers to do the rest.
  • Fiercely loyal customers will do the best marketing for their brand, the kind that brands can’t buy.

You can reach Sarah on Twitter.  You can buy her book Fierce Loyalty.