Should You Treat the New Customer Better?

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the local apartment industry. The way we’re set up is pretty typical for a trade association, but it can be pretty difficult to explain to people who aren’t familiar with how these types of organizations work. So here are the basics:

  • We have two types of members which is association speak for customers. Our primary members are owners and managers of apartment communities. Our other class of members are “affiliate” members who are basically vendors who sell products and services to our primary members.
  • Our primary function is to provide education and advocacy services, plus networking opportunities for apartment owners and management companies. Our affiliate members are most interested in those networking opportunities because that’s where they can interact with the primary members and hopefully do some serious selling.

One of the questions we get all the time comes from companies that are interested in becoming affiliate members and it’s this: “When I join will I get a chance to speak in front of the members at the next event?” A lot of them are surprised when we say no and of course they want to know why. Here’s our answer:

We don’t allow new members to stand up and give their sales pitch because we have members who have been with us for years, decades even, who don’t get that opportunity at every meeting. We also have sponsors who pay extra to be recognized at our events. Why would we treat a new member better than a member who’s been with us and supported the industry for years on end, or give a new member the same exposure as sponsors who have paid for the privilege? What we can promise you is that when you become a member we’ll do everything we can to make sure you’re treated as well as every other member, that you have equal opportunity to build relationships with the primary members and that you have access to all the sponsorship and selling opportunities that every other affiliate member has.

There are many associations that disagree with this approach and do allow new members to get up and speak at their meetings. I’m sure it works for some folks, but at our place we just feel like it sends a terrible message to our long-time affiliate members who have supported the industry with their time and treasure if we treat the new kid on the block, who might be their competitor, better than we treat them. The analogy I use is this: how do you feel when you see that your cable company is offering a special deal to new subscribers, but when you call to see if you can get in on the action they tell you that you aren’t eligible? Pretty crappy I’ll bet, and the last thing I want is for our members to think of us like the cable company.

The Memo

I’ve worked for quite a few organizations over my career and while they were all unique they all had two things in common – the Personal Usage Memo and the Hygiene Memo. I’m fairly confident everyone has seen these, but if you haven’t here’s the overview of each:

Personal Usage Memo
This memo is sent by the boss to the entire company/department/team to remind them that company property (phones, computers, mobile devices, etc.) are not to be used for personal business. The memo almost always starts with, “It has been brought to may attention that…” and it’s sent to the entire group even if only one person is violating the policy, purportedly to remind everyone of the policy but realistically because the boss doesn’t have the balls to confront the violator one-on-one.

Hygiene Memo
This is my favorite, mainly because it is almost always necessary and it also almost always overwrought. Basically it comes down to this: people are slobs and they’re lazy. They don’t clean up after themselves and, like in most of our households, one or two people end up cleaning up after the rest. There’s also the matter of cluttered desks, which is less a problem for co-workers but can be an issue for companies that might have policies related to security, privacy, etc. So this particular memo is necessary, but when it’s written the boss almost always gets too specific and then defensive about the remedies being sought. It should be as simple as, “Dear everyone, we’re all adults here and as adults you should know our company’s policies related to how your work space is to be kept. In all of our common areas like the kitchen you should know to clean up after yourselves so that you don’t gross out everyone else. Please act like the adult you are.”

Unfortunately offended bosses can’t help themselves and go into excruciating detail about what they perceive as the problem and what they’d like done about it. Those are the memos that tend to make their way into the public realm and open the authors up to some pretty good teasing. Best example of late is this memo from Wired’s editor to his staff and the dramatic reading of it in the video below. Enjoy.

Patreon or Support Your Local Blogger

Thanks to a thirty minute commute to work I spend at least an hour in the car every work day. Over the last several months I’ve started listening to podcasts more than the radio or songs from my phone, and it’s been an enlightening experience. Some of the podcasts I’ve found most interesting have been those that were spawned by a successful blog and that definitely includes Cool Tools, a blog on which people recommend their favorite tools in a variety of areas and describe in detail why they like the tool.

On one of the recent podcasts the guest recommended a service called Patreon, which is most easily described as a Kickstarter-like service for artists. Patreon allows writers, filmmakers, artists, bloggers, etc. to solicit patrons to support their work. Unlike Kickstarter, which is really a fundraising tool for the development of a specific product, Patreon allows its users to solicit funds for a project or a series of projects. So if you’re a filmmaker you can solicit funds for a specific film project or for your ongoing body of work. It’s totally up to you and your patrons how to set it up.

JonBobbleHeadCroppedI decided to test drive Patreon for this blog. Because I don’t have any specific projects in the works I decided to set it up on the monthly support model. If you decide you like the blog and find it of value you can simply go to my Patreon page and make a donation of any amount. As a “Thank You” I’ve set it up so that a donation of any amount will get you a free copy of a 20-page book (PDF format) titled Best of 2014’s Worthless Info, and if you give $25 then I’ll send you something from my library – a book, magazine or something else I’ve found incredibly useful in my accumulation of worthless knowledge.

This ought to be interesting.

Married People Are Less Miserable

Apparently staying hitched is the recipe for less misery, if not happiness. From the Washington Post:

In a new working paper, Canadian economists Shawn Grover and John Helliwell show the effect of marriage on a lifetime of happiness. They find that married people are generally happier, and that the “happiness bonus” from marriage is strongest right in middle age — when you need it the most.

“One hypothesis that could explain why the U-shape in life satisfaction over age is deeper for the unmarried than the married is that the social support provided by a spouse helps ease the stresses of middle age,” they write.

This “social support,” as it turns out, is one of the lynchpins of marital happiness. It’s not simply enough to be married — it has to be a goodmarriage. The study finds that the happiness benefits of marriage are strongest among spouses who consider each other their best friends, and that this “best friend effect” is substantial. “The well-being benefits of marriage are on average about twice as large for those (about half of the sample) whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors conclude.

10 Things I Want My College Student Kids to Think About

I really like these ten tips a college professor named Christopher Blattman has for college students. He describes them as things he tries to share with his students and that he wishes someone had had shared with him when he was a student. I’m definitely passing them along to my kids. This paragraph from tip #2 – Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university – really hit home with me because if there’s one subject I wish I’d taken in school, but didn’t, it’s statistics:

For anyone interested in law, public policy, business, economics, medicine — or really any profession — I suggest at least two semesters of statistics, if not more. Data is a bigger and bigger part of the work in these fields, and statistics is the language you need to learn to understand it. I wish I’d had more, both as a management consultant and then as a researcher.

The other tips include:

  1. Try careers on for size
  2. Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university
  3. Learn how to write well
  4. Focus on the teacher, not the topic
  5. When in doubt, choose the path that keeps the most doors open
  6. Do the minimum of foreign language classes
  7. Go to places that are unfamiliar to you
  8. Take some small classes with professors who can write recommendations
  9. Unless you’re required to write a thesis, think twice before committing to one
  10. Blow your mind

Blattman says point #6 is probably the most controversial, but I agree with his thought process here:

Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college. Maybe take an introductory course or two at university to get you started, or an advanced course or two to solidify what you already know, but only that.

Statistics are not more important than languages. But the opportunity cost of skipping a statistics course is high because it’s hard to find ways to learn statistics outside the university. Remember you only get 30 or 40 courses at university. There are a dozen other times and places you can learn a language. Arguably they’re better places to learn it too.

I feel the same way about most business and management skills. They are critical to a lot of professions (even academia), but classrooms are poor places to learn them given the alternatives. Exceptions might be more technical skills like finance and accounting.

A lot of these points mirror the advice that my wife and I have tried to give our three kids, all of whom are at some stage in their college careers. Most importantly the thought process that Blattman applied here is exactly how they should approach their educational careers in order to optimize this brief, but critical, phase of their lives.

The Incredible Turd Machine

As a man who’s spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with the ebb and flow of turds in my home I found this post by Bill Gates to be quite interesting:

I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.

Perpetuating the Problem You’re Protesting

“Black Brunch” Protestors Disrupt White People’s Boozy Sunday Meals

Something about the TPM headline above really irked the hell out of me, something besides protesters being misspelled, but it took me a minute to think it through. In a nutshell it’s this – the implication is that it’s okay to disrupt white people’s meals because all white people are to blame for whatever problems the black people are protesting. How is that any different than saying that all black people are to blame for whatever problems white people might have? It isn’t. Both are forms of divisive gross generalizations at best, racism at worst, and as we all learned when we were three years old, two wrongs don’t make a right.

To put it more simply, I guarantee you that there are plenty of non-white people who partake in boozy Sunday meals, so I’m sure that plenty of non-white people had their meals disrupted as well. Is that okay with the protesters? Are the non-white people also complicit in the killing of black people by police officers because they too engage in boozy Sunday brunches? You say I’m being ridiculous by claiming that the protesters are claiming the white brunch goers are complicit in the police killings? I’d agree, but using the same logic that all white people do, well, anything, I can say that if one protester says I’m complicit in police killing black people because I’m white then all of them think I’m complicit.

Yes the logic is absurd, but so many people in our society use this kind of logic when we debate race, religion, politics, etc. that we end up with a divided community with little hope of finding any kind of common ground.

I have no problem with protests or with people who protest, even those who make a profession out of protesting. After all I can just choose to ignore them. But I get very frustrated with protesters who aren’t smart enough to realize that they’re perpetuating the problem they are trying to address. If you want to do more than make noise, to actually try and fix a problem, then it’s best not to completely shut down any hope of constructive communication by lumping everyone together into one giant blame ball.