Why e-mail is killing your business

Originally published on November 6, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail:

Following a recent keynote I delivered, somebody asked me why an innovation guy like me would still be using a device as passé as a BlackBerry. “Two words,” I responded: “No typos.”

Viva keyboards! I went on to say how tired I was of receiving business e-mails with the “cute” disclaimer, “Please excuse the typos.” I always want to respond, “Excuse me for taking my business to a company that values accuracy of information and delivery as much as I do.”

Glib? Too harsh? Neither one. Would it be okay for your technology partners to say, “Please excuse the random mistakes, but the data is mostly correct.” Is it okay for an airline to say, “Sorry, we got the day right but we typo’d the time, so you’ve missed your flight.”

Obviously, these excuses would be unacceptable. So why tolerate mistakes in your e-mails?

Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, pointed out that your company’s reputation, or brand, “is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

So exactly what is the brand message you’re sending when you let customers know that your brand of service includes typos?

Don’t let sloppy communication be your brand.

A related e-mail problem I’ve often encountered arises from the common complaint: “I regularly send e-mails to my team leaders or store managers, but they never seem to read them. What else am I supposed to do?”

One suggestion I often provide is, “Don’t write them. Or at least, not so many and not so often.” You know the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

This comment usually elicits perplexed reactions – furrowed brow, furious rubbing of the temples, and a questioning stare that asks if I’m really advocating a return to the Stone Age. But think about it. Business success hinges on working with, managing, influencing and, above all, selling to people – and yet we keep choosing e-mail, the most impersonal means of communication available to us today.

The disconnect could not be more glaring.

Even when Walmart founder Sam Walton was the richest man in the world, he would still climb into his propeller plane and fly himself from store to store to greet team members and customers. He understood interpersonal communication, and the power that comes from speaking with your whole body: eyes, mouths, ears and even handshakes.

I understand that, as small business owners, we can’t all fly ourselves around the continent. But we can certainly mix up the way that we communicate with our customers and team members on a regular basis. Yes, there are e-mails and social media, but there are also powerful personal tools such as person meetings, the telephone, and even Skype and video conferencing.

You need to find and deploy the very best communication tools and customer experiences for your business – because building team and customer loyalty is getting harder and harder. Competition is increasing, attention spans are shrinking and consumers are more willing than ever to try something new.

Don’t make it easy for customers to take their business elsewhere. Keep things personal. Saying “no” in person or to somebody you know is much more difficult than deleting a message on your smartphone.

Here’s the interpersonal communications hierarchy I recommend for you and your team when communicating with each other or with customers.

  • For simple, fact-based communications, use e-mail
  • Use the phone for issues-based discussions
  • Conduct new or forward-looking discussions face-to-face

So many companies that I work with fail to grasp this essential truth: in business, communication is king. Don’t be sloppy. Take the time to truly engage your team and customers, and they in turn will be much more likely to engage with you.

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DayBreak USA: Ken Tencer Talks Constant Innovation


Retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, Nancy Liu recently told the Dow Jones News wire that “there’s a dichotomy among retailers.  If your middle class you’re not going to spend freely across stores because you’re concerned about money.  This makes for a more competitive environment for retailers.”

The model remains “how do you best get your goods to the customer?” Retail is not just about the boxes.  Retail is really about making those small transactions and getting your goods into the hands of the customer.   Best Buy has continued to innovate by looking at rebuilding their foot prints while adding new formats for mobile and on the go express kiosks in airport terminals; all attempts to be more convenient and customer friendly.

Retailers need to rethink the retail model and figure out how to get what the customer wants from them where they want it.  Though Amazon is challenging Walmart for leadership in non-grocery retail sales, there are still a lot of items people like to touch, feel and try on.  Bricks and mortar can become smaller and online larger but the brand experience needs to remain consistent across all platforms.  It’s about being willing to constantly innovate in response to consumer trends.  Understand what’s made you successful in the past and translate that message to your online brand.

If you’re worried about being left behind as your competitors engage in constant innovation, listen to my radio interview with Jay Young, DayBreak USA.

For more, read Innovations Aren’t Us and Best Buy in a Small Box.

Jay Young is the host of DayBreak USA, radio’s first national morning magazine show.  For the past 25 years, he has let his voice be heard in radio broadcasts and morning talk shows across the country.

DayBreak USA is a live, fast-paced morning magazine program packed full of interviews, dollars and sense financial information, intelligent insights and positive features.

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Innovations Aren’t Us

Innovation Insights
One of a series by Ken Tencer, Spyder Works CEO


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “retail” as, “to sell in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer.”

The dictionary doesn’t stipulate the size of the store, or even that you need a physical store at all. And this something that many “big box” retailers missed. They were operating on the “If you build it they will come” mentality, which worked for a while – but now it’s not. Last year, sales and profits declined at Toys R Us; Best Buy is closing 50 stores following a fourth-quarter loss of $1.7 billion; and even Walmart performed below analysts’ expectations last year.

The problem: many of these companies have underestimated the changes happening around them. Or as a true student of innovation might put it, they’ve been afraid to make their physical stores obsolete, and now they’re being forced to play catch-up.

If your business doesn’t try hard to make its processes obsolete, someone else will. Businesses, brands, business models and platforms all evolve – creating a need for continuous innovation. In big retail, innovation must focus on developing the right mix of platforms – bigger stores, smaller stores, kiosks, and digital storefronts that you access through your computer, tablet or smart phone – all enhanced by value-added services, education, and the building of dedicated “communities” of engaged customers and other stakeholders.

Can Toys R Us, Sears and Best Buy remain in “retail”? Yes. If, as with any good brand, they develop the right brand platform and a clear brand promise to the customer that differentiates, simplifies and builds trust.

Ten years ago Walmart was supposed to take over the retail world. Now, the Beast of Bentonville is starting to show stress fractures, and online retailer Amazon, with a net sales increase of 40% in 2011, is the new world beater. It’s time for the chains to focus less on what other retailers are doing, and more on what they are not doing: not clearly defining and supporting a customer value proposition.

Toys R Us, for instance, needs to revisit its value proposition and reimagine what it can do for consumers. Can and should it continue to bring toys and baby stuff together (to address the child lifecycle under one roof)? If it’s going to continue selling safety gates and other child-security accessories, should it also provide seminars on child safety, child care, or learning and development? Maybe it can convert some of its surplus space to indoor play areas and party rooms to promote children’s exercise and health. (Maybe it could even host baby showers!)

There is no shortage of innovation opportunities and possibilities. But nothing starts without a vision and a clear commitment to the customer.

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