Friday, June 27, 2014

Managing Word of Mouth Advertising Because Hope Is Not a Strategy

I recently finished a book by Jonah Berger, “Contagious: Why Things Catch Onand wanted to share some of his insights with you.

Mr. Berger is a Wharton Business School professor and has, for the last ten years, been studying why some products and ideas take off and why others will wither and die.

According to Mr. Berger, “Word of mouth is not random, it is not luck and there is a science behind it.” 

As I read the book, I noted several important statistics, one of which is that “just 7% of all word of mouth takes place on line.”  

That’s because people trust recommendations from their friends more than they do from an organization. (Remember how frequently we talk about the importance of testimonials; so few organizations are disciplined enough to use that strategy consistently.

We have to really understand how things catch on and how ideas spread. Most of us think that ideas just start to spread; that it is kind of a random thing; almost a lucky thing.
That is really not the case at all.

Here are six basic principles why ideas and products take off.

1.    Make your customers feel like “insiders.”  If you write a newsletter about your open play programs, make sure that it is for “The Happy Lanes Insider Club; Special programs for Special Customers.” Exclusive accessibility creates a certain kind of buzz which people want to share.  Think of your friend that goes to Vegas and tells you how “He Always Gets Comped.”  And of course he shares his exclusivity status, which makes him feel good and makes you think that you MAY want that status too.

2.   Try to associate your product with something familiar to all customers. For example, if you run a Pizza, Pins N Pepsi program, try to associate your program with something that shows, via digital media, how people eat pizza in the form of some quick vignettes.  You can then create a YouTube video to post on your Facebook page or on your website. Show little scenes of people and their pizza; folding it into pieces, cutting it into squares, eating from the crust first, cutting their slice into smaller triangles, or putting a ton of garlic, o pepper,  oregano or French dressing on their pizza. Your objective is to show the fun of eating pizza…and bowling at “Happy lanes.” Maybe even create a funny postcard and send it to 1,000 people at the same time your Facebook campaign is going on.

3.   Tug at someone’s emotion. Anybody remember Coca Cola’s famous TV commercial about “Buying the world a Coke™.” Think about how you can make an adult child video that shows a Dad and his daughter, hugging and laughing at the lanes, rather than showing a great pin splash. Maybe even do the hug in slow motion and then just splash a couple of words on the screen like “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Adult child programs start at Happy Lanes on day and date.  Come for the bowling, Stay for the love.”

4.   Knowledge. Your word of mouth campaign won’t become anything if people don’t have knowledge of what you do. It does you little good if you run a great Boys N Girls Club fundraiser in the community and no one knows about it.  You can stimulate that by inviting people from the media, issuing press releases to various public TV and radio sites as well as to other fund raising organizations so they know what your center has achieved.  You could also place some information on your website and in the center advising people that “Happy Lanes puts The Fun in Fund raising.” You wouldn't believe how many centers I go into that have no information about available fund raising options…or on their website.

5.   Share information that is useful.  Make a video about how pigs use old bowling balls to exercise.  Who knows, it just might go “viral.”

6.   At the recent Bowl Expo, attendees listened to George Bush, the 43rd; tell stories to make his points about strategy, tactics, and brinkmanship. Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain and Will Rogers were some of the greatest story tellers ever and people would flock to them, take their stories and repeat them.  If you can tell a story about an 85 year old Grandma who has not only bowled for 63 years, but also climbed Mt Everest (I’m exaggerating here, of course) at the age of 77; you would have a heck of a story.  Try to find miraculous things that your customers or employees have done and publicize them.

If you want your word of mouth to be successful, practice the art and science of making your “members” advocates for your product.  

And like anything else out there in “media-land,” it doesn’t happen unless you manage it…
Because Hope Is Not A Strategy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Being Average is Officially Over

In between seminars at Bowl expo I struck up a conversation with a gentleman at the same hotel who was attending a convention of the Society for Human Resource Management.”  We exchanged pleasantries and, after a while and to my surprise, he invited me to attend a seminar being given by the noted author, NY Times columnist, Middle East authority and advisor to Presidents, Thomas Friedman

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. It was a little out of the bowling world, or so I thought, but afterwards I realized how much of it was appropriate to our industry and therefore I wanted to share it with all of you.

The main theme throughout his presentation was “It’s really going to be difficult to be a worker or own a business in this hyper connected world because the single most important fact that it created was that average is officially over.”

It is no longer acceptable to say we’re good enough, we’re routine.  According to Freidman you have to be non routine, highly adaptable and present a highly unique value. Whether you are an individual or a business, you have to justify why someone will hire you or buy your products and why you should either be promoted or be worthy of loyal followers.

No doubt this may create some anxiety (as if we need more!) amongst my fellow proprietors even if they haven’t spoken about it in this way before.  And because every available piece of information about you, your company, your employees is now available on the Internet, anyone can check you out before buying your product or even coming to work in your center.

So what’s going to set you apart?  Here are some ideas/recommendations:

First, you better be innovation ready. You have to foster a culture of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking by instilling motivation in your new hires as well as existing employees.

Second, you must, absolutely must hire self motivated employees. the best employees you can hire are former HS or College athletes. They understand team work; they understand winning; they understand competing; they understand discipline and of course their DNA is wrapped up in self motivation.

Third, think like my grandfather or your grandfather; like an immigrant who came here hungry and was eternally optimistic. They came from somewhere so bad, that it could ONLY be better here so they were always afraid it whatever they got could be taken away in an instant. Some paranoia, I believe, is actually healthy. (Who said that!?)

Fourth, you’re a work in progress. ALWAYS having to learn something new or relearn or re engineer your business. Complacency is a killer and can be one of the leading causes of health issues. Fat, dumb and happy is no match today for a lean, mean driving machine.

Fifth, be entrepreneurial every day. A waitress in the hotel gave me an extra large serving of a fruit cup and a refill.  Guess who got a big tip from me today? You betcha, the waitress! She didn’t control much, but she sure controlled the ladle for the fruit cup. 

Now go to the center and look at everything you do and see if what you do is average.  If it is, put a stamp on it that says, “Average" - It's Over!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Guest Blog from Lew Sims, Proprietor, Dynasty Lanes, OH. A Little Longer Blog, But Really Worth It!


Once again your blog made several key points. Just when I think bowling might make a huge comeback and soon, I see things like this that proves we have a long way to go. Below I outlined some concerns and what we do to make things better at our center. 

Thank you for pointing things like this out. We all need to put our thinking caps on when it comes to customer service and the experience we and our employees provide. How can others respect the bowling industry if we don’t give them a reason? 

 In April I was asked to call bowling centers that are not Kids Bowl Free centers with the hope of having them join the movement. Though I feel any center and the whole industry could benefit from joining in I ran across excuse after excuse why their bowling center was different and the program just wouldn't work for them. Some of what I heard included things like: "We close in the summer", "We cut back in the summer", "We are from a farming community", "Nobody wants to bowl in the summer", "There is too many other things to do in the summer"......The one thing they all had in common was complaining about business being slow. You can’t change things by doing the same things. 

While I hope I convinced a few to do KBF I have a feeling that most of the centers who told me yes or maybe soon dug a little deeper in the bag to find other excuses not to do it. But my favorite was when somebody told me that "If it works and we get busy we might have to hire someone". This wasn’t why they wanted to do KBF but why they didn’t want to. Isn't an increased customer base a main reason why a business would be successful?

Other things also came to light such as how employees and even owners answer the phone and return phone messages. While I am well aware my center isn't perfect and can make improvements in certain areas I never heard any of my staff when I called in or when I over hear them talk to customers answer the phone in such a way. It was as if the person on the other end was being bothered even before they knew it was somewhat of a sales call. I was a fellow bowling center owner trying to tell them about a great program. What if I was a person asking about forming a league?

As you said in your blog, reviews must be addressed. I go through my Facebook reviews all the time. Of the 138 we had one person give us one star, two people 2 stars, 13 people 3 stars, 17 people 4 stars and 105 people 5 stars.

Of these reviews we only had 2 that left comments, both of these very positive. For those who left 1 or 2 stars I posted back telling them that we strive for the best customer service possible and asked them what we could have done to make their experience better. I wrote it a little different each time so that the response didn't look canned. Even though they never responded back it showed anyone who was going through my reviews that Dynasty Lanes really cares what people think and will do our best to make things right.

We have full scale employee meeting once every 3 weeks or so. At our last meeting I told our employees how we have been doing with the Facebook reviews.  I also told them while concerned about the 1 and 2 star ratings I was also worried about the 3 star ratings. While some businesses might be satisfied with a 3 (good) rating we shouldn't and that we shouldn't even be happy with the 4 stars. The only thing we should be happy about is the 5 star ratings because one of our goals is to turn our customers into our sales-force. 

Only 5 stars can do this.
Surveying your customers can also help with customer service. An example of this is the one we use for birthday parties. We have 5 categories:

1)      Party Experience
2)      Front Counter Employee Service
3)      Food Service Employee
4)      Quality of Pizza
5)      Quality of Other Food
6)      Cleanliness

We do a points system. 3 points for excellent, 2 points for very good, 1 point for above average, -2 for average, -4 for poor and -6 for bad.

The key here is -2 for average. We do not strive for average. Out of the last 22 birthday party surveys returned I am happy to say we only had one average mark in one category. I am proud to say we contacted that person, found out why, correct it and made what I feel is a lifetime customer out of them. We had one above average mark for pizza quality and all other ratings were very good and excellent.

We also ask questions like would they be interested in joining a league, type of league (with suggestions), would you recommend our center to others and so on. You get several leads doing this.

In another section we ask for their email so we can contact them about different events (spelled out for them). This would be the second time they have been asked with the first time being upon booking their party. You would be surprised how many let you have the email the 2nd time and not the 1st time you ask. I think they are waiting to see what kind of experience they will have or maybe because we have earned their trust with the way they have been treated.

In the final section we ask for additional comments. These comments can be used for testimonials on your flyers, website and monitors. It is one thing for you to tell people about your wonderful birthday packages it is another for the customers to do so.

The same works for other revenue streams including league bowling, food and bar service. Don’t be afraid to survey them. While I would stay away from questions concerning lane conditions a center should ask about customer service, new menu items, cleanliness……. You never know when they may come up with a great idea and it also keeps your employees on their toes.

When it comes to employees you must lead by example. If you want them to be friendly and perform certain customer service techniques you can’t walk around like a big grump. You need to tell the employees when they can do something better but it is more importantly to tell them when they do something right. Praise them in front of other employees, family members and even customers for a job well done. Don’t criticize them in front of others.

Ask your employees for their experiences at other bowling centers and other businesses. Ask them for the good, the bad and the ugly. Tell them a few stories of your own to get things started. This puts them in your customer’s shoes and makes them think twice about how they handle customer service.
Bottom-line is that we should all strive for excellence and make a goal of constant improvement when it comes to customer service.  As with the centers I mentioned before concerning KBF we can make excuses or make money, it is up to us.

Looking forward to your next blog:)



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Really? Isn't That Interesting.

When I tell people I work in the bowling industry I usually get a pleasant nod and one of three responses:

1.  "Really? Isn't that interesting." 2,  "Oh, I don't know anyone in that business. How did you get into  it/that line/business, etc?"
3.  "Bowling? I haven't bowled in years!"

To all these responses I try to be as pleasant as possible, but recently I have been a little more outspoken and almost defensive.

I think it happened when I read the reviews.

Often I will go to clients websites, competitors to clients websites or random bowling websites to see what's up.  In the last week, I hit about 10 bowling websites and this is what caused my consternation.

Many of the reviews expressed very LOW expectations of their bowling experience.  Here is a sample of some of the reviews.

"XYZ happened to me at Happy Lanes, but what can you expect from a bowling alley employee?"

"The bowling alley always looks dirty, but as a nostalgic throwback I can handle it once every two years or so...and I always shower after it."

"The Neanderthal at the customer desk couldn't answer any of my questions about the birthday parties and was too busy talking on his phone. So I went (name of place) and it wasn't a bowling alley."

None of these comments made me happy as I read review after review.  I shrugged it off as just a bad run of reviews, but they were about different centers in different locations."

And not one of the centers had answered the reviews or posted anything on it." Does anybody check this stuff, I wondered?

But last night at a little BBQ with some friends and some new people we hadn't met before and I got a story about a local bowling "alley" from the husband of the new couple.

He didn't even try to hide his feelings "that almost all bowling alleys were notorious for not being service oriented"; similar to the above mentioned comments.

To which, I replied "Oh, I suppose you have never had a bad experience any where else you have shopped or eaten out, right?"

To which I was told, "You're right. I have had bad experiences in other places, but I bowl in a league there and they don't treat us very nicely.

I was going to probe this further, but he continued by saying, "We even talked to the owner who said he would speak to the night manager. Nothing changed since last November, so we're going to another bowling alley, maybe half of us will go, about 16 to 20 guys. Others are just going to quit."

As soon as I could get some privacy, I called the owner, who I knew (but was not a client) and told him the story.  He promised me he would speak to the league officer or Secretary as soon as he could. I hope he does. And I hope I made a diving catch for him, but I doubt it.

Back to the conversation with the husband - I didn't know what to say other than, "Well, please don't judge the whole industry on that one bad apple. There are allot of great,  caring customer service oriented bowling centers out there that would treat you wonderfully and appreciate your business."

To which he replied,  "Really, isn't that interesting?"

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Even a Commodity Can Have A Little Fun

Over the past 5 or 10 years the debate about whether bowling is a commodity or not rears its head and people flock to take sides. 

Most of us have flocked to the commodity side and therefore feel that bowling should be priced as such, especially (or specifically) in the “traditional model.”

Admittedly, as the second shift (9 p to close, Monday thru Thursday) continues to atrophy, many proprietors have offered their lowest pricing during this time period such as: quartermania, dollar days, $5 all you can bowl and a host of similar low price promos and I don’t blame them.  

But that is a slippery slope and in competitive markets, it may portend who goes out of business first. Then again, you have to do what you have to do.

But do you have to stop there?  Do you have to just offer a LOWER price?  Can you not create some fun to go with that low price? Can't a commodity priced product have a little fun too?

Why not make an effort to make these low priced nights special nights; sell beer from a wheelbarrow on the concourse sold by a waitress in a 5o’s outfit; or selling pizza from a rolling cart and singing Italian songs; dressing staff in masks or costumes or hats; or having staff on roller skates (check your workman’s comp insurance on this one); or play different kinds of music even funky stuff from the 40’s and 50’s?

Wear a tuxedo, maybe a red one, host Martini nights and hire an old time band in white dinner jackets to play music that the kids never heard before; or run a Great Gatsby night; or hire a friend who is an amateur musician. 

What about temporary tatoos or face painters and certainly clowns; or  hold an “open Mike night” and let people sing a song; or do a 5 minute stand up comedy routine. Maybe do karaoke on the lanes with their video image projected on the overhead or big screens if you have them?
Maybe run crazy bowl contests or give away unlimited pizza for $5 per person, just cheese pizza and cut into squares and serve the  squares on small plates or dish them out yourself or serve them per lane.  Very, very few of us are doing does this kind of stuff because we’re afraid that “it won’t work.”  
So it might not?  Big deal if It didn’t work! (At least the staff might have had some fun). Try something else and keep on trying.
The best hitter in baseball, Ted Williams, was only successful a little over 40%
Howver, if you really believe  your product is a commodity, especially during 2nd shift weekdays) and you price it as such, what are you going to do when minimum wage goes to $15 per hour?  Places like Seattle WA want to (or are planning to) raise minimum wages to $15 per hour. Yikes!
What if, instead, you created the brand image that can honestly say, “You can get bowling anywhere at 9pm wherever there’s a bowling alley, but you can’t get this from anyone but ME!"

Monday, June 2, 2014

Getting Unstuck

Without a doubt, you worked hard to get your bowling center to where it is today. 

Between building and modernizing the physical plant, to maintaining the mechanical and electronic equipment as well as daily maintenance, you have used those skills to get your center to where it is today.

But those skills, now finally sharpened and you can probably do in your sleep, are NOT going to be the thing that takes your bowling center to the next level. 

Of course you needed special skills to recruit and retain league bowlers in the “traditional model” which today seems somewhat easier, but those same skills aren’t really what you need to actually build your company from here forward.

So what do you do, if you agree with this hypothesis?  

First you build a strategy for your center that is more in tune with today’s customers and you focus on the work and the tactics to get it done; to work on the stuff that others won’t or can’t do until it gets done.

And when the time continuum gets crunched and confused and you feel yourself slipping back into old habits, slap yourself until you realize that these old habits are exactly the opposite of what you need to be doing.

Because the very thing that got you here is exactly what everyone else is doing and if that’s what it took to get your business to the next level, no one would be stuck where they are.

Start learning new methodologies. Take more courses, read more books, attend more seminars, hook up with people from your industry and other related industries (like restaurants, hotels, casinos, theme parks, etc) you can learn from and find ways to test programs and try different tactics until you start to see your center moving to the next level.  

You may even find that you need to create a different "model" for your center.  If that is the case, go visit successful centers who have made that switch.

Or you’ll be stuck where you are wondering what to do.  And that's not a happy place.