Don’t compromise your story

Don't Compromise Your Story

Sometimes, we are so confident and passionate about the story we have to tell. We know that we can offer tremendous value, whether through our own brand story for customers or a creative story that leads to art, music, poetry or dance.

Commerce and art are similar. When the story inspires you and resonates for others, things just seem to flow.

Which is what was happening for me as I began the journey of writing The Empathy Edge in early 2017. After some fumbling, I had articulated the message in my heart (thanks to wise help from the fabulous Alexandra Franzen). I was pumped. I had a vision. People validated me with “Yes! This is the business book we need. We need to show that empathy at work and with your customers is the modern success model. Write it. Pleeeeaaaassssse!”

And then, as I pitched to literary agents, the fog rolled in again.

Thankfully, all of them made time to give me detailed feedback or talk with me. They were generous and kind. I was flattered they thought I was a great writer.

But then:

“Well, I’m just not sure where this really fits or how to position it.”

“I don’t know if this will fly to a business audience.”


“I can totally sell this book to a publisher if you change it from “empathy” to be a book about how ‘ feminine traits’ make organizations successful. Will you change it?”

What?! NO.

See, that was their agenda, not mine. They were looking for a neat slot to put me in, something easy to sell. And their publishing partners were pressuring them to find “more books about women’s topics.” (This was right in the thick of the Me Too movement). 

They told me they could sell this book. If I didn’t write the book I wanted to write.

I kindly said no. And pressed on.

See, my entire point with The Empathy Edge and this message that  “cash flow, creativity, and compassion are not mutually exclusive” is to make it gender-neutral. It’s not about male or female traits. Empathy is a HUMAN trait. 

And if I pigeonholed it as “owned” by one gender, I’d lose the opportunity to reach the very audience who, for better or worse, currently makes up the majority of business leaders. And frankly, some of my least empathetic bosses were women, so we don’t have a lock on this either, people.

Most importantly, I’d lose those male allies who were models of empathetic leadership – and who wanted this book to help bring other male colleagues along and help me change the conversation.

So, I said no. To a sweet deal. To it being easier.

The lesson: Don’t let anyone else shape your story. If it fuels you and resonates with others, stop at nothing to tell it. (TWEET THIS!)

And now you can read the book that I wanted to write.

The pre-launch sale for The Empathy Edge is going on now. Click here for details. Buy before October 22 and get some fabulous goodies, including an invite to my exclusive author Q&A, a bonus expert video series, and even, at larger quantities, a free customized workshop for your team or event.

And, when you read it, I’d love to know: Did I make the right decision?

PS: To get some fabulous bonuses, including an exclusive author Q&A webinar, bonus video training and more, pre-order your copies of The Empathy Edge right here:  

After placing your order, just submit your receipt on that page, and enjoy your goodies! Order by October 22. Thank you so much for your kind support! It means the world.

A Tale of Two Customer Experiences

Customer experience is now a defining competitive edge.

In fact, this article states that customer experience is one of the top disruptive trends in business this year.

So let me ask you: Which customer experience would you rather have?

  • One where the customer service rep responds promptly, empathizes with your issue, and offers you options to solve your problem, even if it may not be the original solution you’d had in mind?
  • Or one where the customer service rep blames their lack of responsiveness on the company being too successful to manage all their new business, implying it’s somehow your fault for being impatient?

These were two such experiences I had recently. The first with, of all companies, a cable company. The second, with what is supposed the be a new darling of online retailing.

What made the difference? EMPATHY.

Empathy is not just a feel good trait. It’s an essential brand advantage that impacts sales and customer experience. Especially when dealing with an upset customer or client. (TWEET THIS!)

The bad customer service rep (for lack of a better term) blamed me for the initial problem, acted like she didn’t care at all that I was now in a bind, and haughtily said to me, “Well, I can’t help do anything about it” to which, when I prompted, “Well can you ASK someone who CAN do something,” she replied with indifference, “”Sure, I guess I’ll ask if something can be done, but I don’t think so.” Yep. She never asked.

The good customer service rep immediately empathized with my frustration and shock over a huge increase in my monthly bill (“Wow! I would totally feel the same way if I’d opened up a bill and saw that increase too! Let’s see what’s going on here.”)

The bad customer service rep had canned email responses that were supposed to “show empathy” – except when you get the same phrase in every single email, it’s clear it’s from a script (“We never want our customers to have that kind of experience.”) Well, clearly you do if you do nothing to fix the process.

The good customer service rep had no script. She looked at my account and customized a solution on the fly. (“Let me check something real quick. I think I can move your plan to another one we now have available so you’re paying the same price you were before.”)

Google has seen the business benefits of empathy. Company research projects have revealed that its most innovative ideas, productive teams and high-performers rank empathy high as a crucial factor to success.  Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella cites empathy as the most important catalyst for innovation.

How do we build empathy into the customer experience?

  • Implement the right processes: Empower customer service reps to do what it takes to solve the issue and not tie their hands with onerous “permission getting.” Allow for fast resolutions and creative problem solving.
  • Hire right: Emotional intelligence is crucial. Don’t just staff a body. Be sure you are screening and hiring people who have shown empathy in past roles. Ask them how they collaborate, problem solve or handle angry customers. Role play scenarios in the interview and see how they respond.
  • Scale for success: Your success is no excuse for a poor experience. Don’t blame “too many customers” on the reason you don’t have enough reps or logistical support to solve problems. Don’t blame your email system for not getting customer complaints. That’s on you.
  • Acknowledge feelings: While it’s tempting to not want to legally “take blame” for something that went wrong, you can still be human and say you are sorry the customer is having such a bad experience. Acknowledging their angry or hurt feelings by relating to them from a similar experience you have had can go a long way to easing the pain.

It’s not enough to have a great product. The bad customer service experience company has a great product and it’s killing me that I just don’t want to give them any more of my money.

Image Credit: Photo by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

A Dear John letter for Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

We’ve been through a lot, you and I.  But it’s time for me to see other brands. It’s not you, it’s me. No, that’s a lie. It’s totally you.

You swept me off my feet in my early 20’s and taught me how to love coffee – for that I will be eternally grateful. Late Saturday mornings in Chicago. Stolen afternoons in Washington D.C. Even in Indianapolis – back before they actually had a Starbucks – I made do with brief encounters with you at Barnes and Noble whenever I could.

I adored everything about you and people were sick of hearing about my brand crush. I devoured Howard Schulz’s autobiography, Pour Your Heart Into It, as a brand manifesto for how to delight customers and make a a difference. You created a cherished “Third Place” for people to gather – and when I began working for myself, you were right there by my side, hosting meetings and giving me a comfy place to work.

Others tried to make me hate you. Especially when I moved to Seattle (I was thrilled to live in your hometown!). They scorned you as a mass market sell-out, a bland factory coffee line for people who didn’t know better. They scoffed at your hipster lingo, your (in their eyes) sub-par quality. “No, but I love them!” I would scream. Starbucks delivers everything they promise and that’s why they are so great. They deliver a convenient, cozy and consistent experience.  And the Seattle Starbucks locations were flawless models of efficiency, service, and experience.

I held you up as my Prince Charming of a Brand Story.

But then, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area and something changed. You stopped delivering the brand benefits I’d come to know and love.

Every Starbucks in the Bay Area let me down – on the Peninsula to be exact. At first, I thought it was a fluke. Had to just be one store. So I tried another. And another. Same story: long wait times, non-engaging baristas, even inconsistent latte quality.  I witnessed your baristas being surly, brusque and downright rude sometimes. Then you started warming up pastries – and nearly scalded my tongue. Why were you being so mean? I thought maybe, since we weren’t in Seattle anymore, you just stopped trying to impress Corporate visitors who might pop in.

Still I kept defending you. I tried to communicate with you. Reaching out on Twitter several times, you gave me radio silence. Other brands like Virgin America and Nordstrom respond back, but you, you just gave me the cold shoulder.

My loyalty is worth more than this, I thought.  So I started dating around. And every time I went somewhere else, I felt like they valued me and my time more that you do. They delivered my latte hot, fresh, and fast. It tasted better. The baristas smiled at me. They seemed like they had their acts together.

And then, the kicker. Peet’s started offering almond milk. Oh, how could I resist?

I tried to get you to change. I tweeted several times to ask if you’d please carry almond milk. No response. I even asked the baristas in store and they said they just couldn’t do it.

I think that was the final straw. I’m a valuable customer and waiting inordinately long amounts of time on a brand who says its fast and convenient just to get bad service, a burnt tongue and inconsistent latte quality – on top of not being able to get the milk I want – is not something I’m willing to stand for any longer.

So I’m leaving you, Dear Starbucks. I emptied the last cent on my Starbucks card and I now frequent my neighborhood Peet’s as well as an indie coffeehouse I discovered.

Oh sure, I’ll call you for a quick hook up now and then. You do make a great gift card. And when I have no other option, I’ll see  if you’re around. But to be non-committal, I pay cash instead of  reloading my Starbucks card  – so no need to give me any more free drinks on my birthday. We don’t have that kind of relationship anymore.

I wish you the best, Starbucks. I really do. You’ve done a lot of good for a long time. But a brand has to be consistent to be brilliant. (Tweet this!)  If you feel like changing – at least in the Bay Area – and being the brand I fell in love once again, give me a call sometime.



Photo credit (edited): Siti Fatimah on Flickr

Got a brand you’d like to break up with? Jot down your brand Dear John letter in the Comments below and vent away!


Art + Social Media = Fabulosity (and Marketing Genius)

My good friend and videographer, Philip, sent me a clever social media campaign that I am just now getting around to sharing with all of you (yes, trying to get myself more organized in 2011).  Have you heard of the musical group Belle & Sebastian? They have a sort of a “folksy pop” vibe about them, and maintain a cult following throughout the world.

For the release of their album in August, they did a fun social media campaign that not only engaged their fans, but generated buzz and probably made their SEO rankings zoom off the charts by asking fans to create photo content. The best brand campaigns are the ones that ask your fans to do something (show their loyalty and commitment), promotes your business (what you ask them to do creates buzz for YOU) and creates beautiful content that can be repackaged with the tribe (that’s just my own personal vote.).

Their new album was called Belle and Sebastian Write About Love. When working on art for the album, they captured this image of a hip chick writing the record name in chalk in secluded spots in Glasgow:


Write About Love by belles glasgow Photo credit: Belle and Sebastian

So they launched a social media contest, via Flikr, to ask fans to do the same thing (write the album name in chalk in the towns where they live) and upload their photos. Winners would be used in their online TV show, and others would win trophies for “the most striking, scenic, artistic or funny contributions.” Here is the contest page and you can see some of the wildly different, yet artistic and fun entries they received. This insight into the “art” of their fans also probably gave them some valuable intel of their customers.

By doing this fun & spontaneous contest, Belle and Sebastian increased their tribe engagement and loyalty, creating an event that caused people to “check back in” and see how the entries were looking, offered incentives for really putting thought into the entry by offering prizes fans would cherish, and turned their tribe into a slew of field sales reps, promoting their album from here to kingdom come. For every one photograph, imagine the onlookers wondering what the heck each entrant was doing when they came upon them writing the band’s name in chalk and snapping pics?

The moral? Get creative with social media as it can have more arms and legs than you think. The other moral? Promotion does not have to be icky and sleazy. It can actually produce something artistic of which your fans can be proud and which can make them ever more loyal to your message.

Do you have a healthy real-time culture?

If not, you’d better, according to Jay Baer. He wrote this great post about five signs that your culture is fit for prime-time in the new order of things.

Biggest takeaway? The need for speed. Having an aligned culture that embraces diversity, failure and new ideas means you fail fast, fail often and succeed even more. The most successful entrepreneurs I know constantly beat this drum: Fail fast, fail fast, FAIL FAST.

He also talks a lot about ensuring the culture permeates the organization. At the speed of business today, you don’t want to be taking a “time out” to correct employees who don’t understand the company brand, vision or reason for being. They need to embrace it and live it from Day One. I’ve often talked about brand being more than just “marketing’s job” and it’s never more true than in today’s business world. Think about it. Does a general on the battlefield really want to take the time to teach soldiers how to drive the tank, who the enemy is, and the mission’s purpose -  right as bombs are exploding all around? Heck no. Everyone needs to be primed before the mission even starts – and all marching to the beat of the same drummer.

Jay’s post also talks a bit about rewards. This is the delicious topic of Dan Pink’s book, Drive, and I highly recommend you pick it up if you have employees – or even partners you treat like employees. Money is not the only reward lever at your disposal and people are motivated in different ways, depending on their function. A real-time culture is all about efficiency and aerodynamics: the more you know about the best way to motivate different employees, the less time you can waste of rolling out incentives that get you nowhere fast. And with today’s complex jobs, more often than not incentives like autonomy, input and creativity are more striking and effective than a holiday bonus. I mean, no one pays contributors to Wikipedia yet people spend hours with no pay updating entries. For some roles, it’s about solving puzzles, doing things in a new way and getting credit.

Do you think your business is able to keep pace with today’s rate of change? If yes, why? If no, what one clear action can you take in 2011 to move a little closer to “real-time”?

What you never want a customer to say about your business

We’ve talked a lot here at Red Slice about “walking your talk” and living your brand inside and out. Here is one newspaper article quote you never, ever, EVER want associated with your company and brand:

Chevron’s rhetoric and the public image that they put forward is very different from how they’re actually operating.”

This is from a recent WSJ article citing Chevron’s new ad campaign. The campaign attempts to answer critics head-on and evoke almost an anti-industry message. In an industry where most advertising shows generic, almost fairy-tale images of “frolicking children, serious scientists and splendid vistas of mountains and rivers”, Chevron is going head-on to address what oil companies should and shouldn’t be doing on a moral level. Headlines like “oil companies should support the communities they’re a part of. We agree.” and “Oil companies should put their profits to good use” abound in this campaign.

But are people buying it? Apparently not all of them, as indicated by the quote above.

Don’t make a claim unless you can really support it. And if you really want to make that claim in order to remain competitive, then ensure you modify your practices, policies, products or personnel to back up that claim. There are no shortcuts. Do what you say, say what you do. That’s how you build a strong brand over time.

Do you think oil companies can effectively change their brands over time? If so, how?

Philanthropic Giving: Business Model or Brand Message?

As mentioned in a previous post, giving back to the community and maintaining responsible business practices are really hot for consumer loyalty right now. I personally hope this trend continues into perpetuity, as businesses have amazing reach and leverage to make a difference in the world. I pray this is not just a fad.

I read a sidebar in the WSJ today about businesses following in the footsteps (no pun intended) of Toms Shoes. For every pair of shoes they sell, they give one pair to a child in need. Pretty cool. While this may add extra costs or eat into margins, its also the reason why many loyal customers continue to support Toms – and they get ton of great PR around it. The WSJ article states that a July survey by Cone LLC found that 19% of adults would switch brands – even to those with higher prices – to support a cause. That’s pretty powerful, especially during a recession.

Toms passes the extra costs onto consumers, who don’t mind paying it because, hey, they need shoes anyway and want to help people in need at the same time. Now many start-ups are mimicking this concept in small ways. The article cites Warby Parker who gives money to a nonprofit called Restoring Vision or every pair of glasses they sell. And a necktie retailer called Figs donates school uniforms to children in Africa for every tie sold.

While profit margins and growth may be slowed because of this, the companies seem to be trading off brand loyalty and attracting a  certain kind of loyal customer for the long term. That’s pretty smart, if they can keep it going. But I wondered if this is a business model shift or a brand shift? Obviously, you have to tweak your pricing and fulfillment to make this happen, so it does impact the business model and how fast you can grow. But it also ties so closely in with the “soul” of the company and what it stands for – and that is a brand decision if you ask me. It’s promoting a value to attract customers who share that value – which means it’s about a promise and a targeted message. All branding decisions.

Whatever you call it, I like it. And I hope it continues. But maybe that is because I am the type of person they are trying to attract. If someone is striving to make ends meet and cares about price, they are not the target audience for these companies.

Does that mean businesses who engage in this practice always need to be targeting a more affluent customer? What do you think?

Passion plus purpose equals profits

A fundamental advantage that small business owners have when it comes to brand is that they are so close to their customers. Usually, they started the business because of a personal passion or because they themselves felt a need and strived to fulfill it in the market. DRY Soda, a natural soda company, started out when the founder tried to find healthy, natural yet sophisticated beverages to have at a nice restaurant or a cocktail party.  Baby Legs, which provides signature stylish leg warmers for babies and toddlers, was founded by a young mom who needed to expose her baby’s diaper rash to fresh air while still keeping her daughter warm. These leg warmers protected her from the elements, made diaper changing and potty training easier, and protected her soft knees while crawling.

I had the amazing opportunity to facilitate a brand workshop for a tech company who is trying to clarify their messaging, build brand recognition and generally change the game in their industry. Exciting stuff. We clarified and gained consensus on what business they are truly in, who their ideal customers are, and what persona the company can authentically present to the world.  But all of this was just ‘business speak’.

Finally, in the early afternoon, I tossed my papers aside and challenged the CEO and others, “Let’s back up a second: What is the mission of this company? What greater impact do you hope your software and solutions have on the world?” The CEO didn’t even need a moment to think before articulating his passion about helping match candidates to employers, which leads to more jobs and thriving businesses, which leads to healthy economies – but on a personal level, finding the right job enables people to “send their kids to college” and make their lives’ dream come true.

The room came alive. Everyone from the CFO to the HR Director to the sales directors gave their own spin on this mission and what gets them out of bed in the morning. I pointed out, “See how the energy in this room just changed? This is the spark that will separate you from the pack, inspire businesses to partner with you, inspire talented employees to work for you, attract customers to do business with you. This is the essence of what you guys are all about.”

If you create an authentic brand in pursuit of a higher purpose, you can connect to people as ‘people’ – not just employees, customers or partners. And this will gain you loyalty, attraction and revenue beyond your wildest dreams. It doesn’t matter if you are a ‘solopreneur’ or a 10,000 person company. And only if this mission is authentically lived out through everything your company says and does will it be embraced and believed – you cannot simply ‘slap a coat of brand paint’ on your business with the transparent singular goal of more profits.  If you start with the right intentions and a true passion that is executed clearly and consistently, trust me: the money will follow.

Now that’s what I mean by delight!

I had the best car rental experience of my life last week. And that is a bold statement from someone who worked as a management consultant and in affiliate sales during her career and used to travel up the yin-yang.

I rented through Alamo at the Philadelphia Airport because they were the most cost-effective option on Expedia.  What I got was an amazingly friendly, professional and warm experience that far exceeded my expectations. I had doors held open for me at every turn. Everyone I passed greeted me with a smile and a “How are you today?” I’ll admit to being a little creeped out by this at first, as my expectations of a car rental brand are so low that they all look and sound the same. And this is coming from someone who is a Hertz Gold Club member.

Once inside, the gentleman who held the door open for me also ran around the desk to check me in. He bantered with his fellow staffmates as they ran around to get me the GPS I’d requested and then he showed me step-by-step how to set it up. I could tell everyone there genuinely enjoyed their work and each other – and it made me feel like I was in good hands.

Once outside, my car was blocked in by a rental bus. Immediately , two other staff members saw my dilemma and cleared a path for me without me even asking. It was like as soon as my problem materialized, there they were, solving it proactively.

That’s what I’m talking about, people. Delight. Happy, empowered employees who have a clear service mission leads to a happy brand experience for customers, which leads to me talking about this company on social media. Maybe they are helped along by my previous lackluster experiences or the low service bar in the industry -  who knows? Who cares? Bottom line is that I’m still talking about them. See how it works? Easy peasy.

C’mon baby, light my (entrepreneurial) fire

How’s your cashflow and your mojo? Does your vision match your reality? Does your brand match your soul?

Danielle LaPorte can help you answer these tough but important questions so you can make your business dream a reality. I’ve loved her brazen and authentic style ever since we first met a few years ago on a client project. I’m thrilled to talk to her in today’s Ask the Expert about her new digital experience for entrepreneurs: The Fire Starter Sessions. As she says in her witty and wonderful way: “It’s an e-book meets video transmission of acumen and love.” Whether you’re in the early idea phase or a well-established rut, Danielle wants to light a fire under your….aspirations.

THE FIRE STARTER SESSIONS is: Worksheets that help you draw conclusions, quick videos with motivational punch, connections to current thinkers, practical smarts, and frank wisdom — THE FIRE STARTER SESSIONS is packed with inspiration that you will put to use. Danielle has worked with 462+ entrepreneurs in her 1-on-1 Fire Starter consults. For CEOs, coaches, artists, retailers, bestselling authors — from site design to big dreams — Danielle’s strategies combine passion with pragmatism to get to fulfillment and cash. And she’s also got nuggets from A-list marketing strategists, pro-bloggers, experts and creativity coaches.

RS: Hi Danielle. Tell us a bit about you and what White Hot Truth can do for business owners?

DL: I’m part strategist, part philosopher. Someone once said I’m a cross between Deepak Chopra and Janis Joplin. Kinda fits. I write about self realization, and I jam with entrepreneurs in my 1-on-1 "Fire Starter Sessions". And after working with hundreds of entrepreneurs to help them rock their careers, I decided to launch "The Fire Starter Sessions" as an online program.

RS: What is this deliciously explosive online experience all about and who is it meant for?

DL: If you’ve got the entrepreneurial spirit – this is for you. You: are likely sitting on an empire of content, product, services, and prosperity that needs a spark — or blow torch — to take you to the next level. You: want to rock your revenue streams and do meaningful things in the world.

RS:What one big mistake do you see entrepreneurs making over and over again that stymies their success?

DL: They take for granted how much they really have to offer. So many people are experts, tribe leaders, teachers – swimming in their own knowledge. A lot of what I do is about showing them the value and potential of their natural strengths and experience.

RS: The White Hot Truth brand is especially authentic and attractive. What intentional decisions did you make about your brand early on and can you give us an example or two of how you live it out in practice?

DL: "Especially authentic and attractive?" Why, thank you (insert batting eyelashes.) When I went solo to start White Hot Truth I vowed that I would never dummy down, I would never shrink from my spiritual or intellectual power, I would only put out material that I felt was useful. So far, so good.
Even though I’d been "blogging" for a long time, when I launched White Hot Truth it took me about three months to find my truest voice. I thought I might write about style…but, nope. Relationships… nada. I let myself feel what I really WANTED to talk about, not what I thought would sell. And that’s made all the difference to not only deepening my creativity and quality of work, but the quality of people who are shown up for it.
Passion has a way of doing that.


DIGITAL FIRE STARTER SESSIONS…a digital experience for people with the entrepreneurial spirit.

Pre-ordering opens April 7 with a special sneak peek chapter. Worldwide release is May 12. The program is $150, with $5 from every purchase going to The Acumen Fund or WomenforWomen.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Danielle sparking up The Fire.