Restaurant Relations Well Done

On a recent business trip to Atlanta, I had the opportunity to eat dinner with business associates and friends at what quickly became my favorite restaurant in all of Georgia.  During the evenings before our discovery, I (we) had eaten in a steakhouse/pub; I enjoyed excellent ambiance, rare steak, a house brewed pale ale and an amazing fried cheesecake dessert. It was one of the best dinners I’ve enjoyed in a long time; we each left believing we had found the finest eatery in the Big Peach.

Enter Mary Mac’s Tea Room. On our last evening in town and in search of Southern food, we took the recommendation of the hotel concierge and chose to walk the two miles to Mary Mac’s. We were welcomed by three staff members as we entered the front door as only Southerners can do.  The ambiance invites you to enjoy Mary Mac’s history; the walls are filled with celebrity pictures, many taken before anyone in our party was born. It seems like the wait staff has been there since the beginning too (some have been serving meals for nearly 40 years!); their collective professionalism is unparallelled. You get the impression that when you return, you will be welcomed as an old friend.

The menu is full of Southern fare that brought back fond memories, as many dishes were family staples when I was growing up.  Our waitress engaged us in lively banter and recognizing it was our first visit, brought us soup on the House.  Our dinners came on 1 or 2 big plates, plus dishes for the sides.  One of my side choices, Dumplings, could have been a meal of its own; it was so similar to the chicken & dumplings my grandmother used to prepare that I was in Heaven.

“You can learn key ingredients for creating customer delight from Mary Mac’s”

The best part of our evening was a visit with Jo Carter, Mary Mac’s Goodwill Ambassador.  Jo is the kind of person who is an instant friend.  Throughout our conversation, she provided a shoulder and back rub to each of us; which is simultaneously unusual and welcome!  The back of Jo’s shirt says “I got my belly filled and my back rubbed at Mary Mac’s”, both of which are true.  In the midst of our chat, Jo asked for and received our business cards, asked about our families, jobs and where we live. We each had a great time talking and joking with Jo.

Topping off dinner was pie and ice cream. We didn’t need to eat anymore, but we had to have dessert.  We left completely full and thankful for the two mile walk back to the hotel to work a bit of our meals off. Dinner was so astoundingly good and filling that when combined with an outstanding staff, amiable service, an engaging ambassador, Southern hospitality and ambiance, Mary Mac’s quickly became my favorite restaurant in all of Georgia.

Fast forward a couple of weeks following our visit. I received a thank you note from one of Mary Mac’s partners, Hank Thompson.

Mr. Thompson’s letter capped off my impression of Mary Mac’s as a special place. Clearly, Ambassador Jo Carter communicated our conversation to management, who in turn wrote a thoughtful thank you note that accomplishes several purposes:

  1. Requests that I return soon
  2. Expresses hope that our dining experience met expectations
  3. Invites me to comment on my dining experience
  4. Reinforces MaryMac’s determination that each dining experience is great
  5. Encourages me to engage MaryMac’s for future events
  6. Offers an opportunity to experience MaryMac’s at home via their cookbook
  7. Draws attention to the State of Georgia’s Special Resolution and MaryMac’s being named “Atlanta’s Dining Room”
  8. Conveys appreciation for our business
  9. Emphasizes Mary Mac’s family culture

In short, Mr. Thompson’s thank you note conveys gratitude for simply being a customer, invites me to engage, markets additional Mary Mac’s products and services, promotes the restaurant and its culture and reinforces my experiences while there.  Accomplishing that many things with one thank you letter, indicates a great deal about Mary Mac’s commitment to quality, hospitality and engagement honed over more than 60 years of excellence.

“Will I return”?  Yes! I am a huge fan of Mary Mac’s food, staff, ambiance and management.  If you have an opportunity to visit, make sure you go hungry, be prepared for a great meal and expect outstanding service.  You will undoubtedly enjoy a memorable meal, make new friends and have an excellent time. Best of all, Jo will welcome you and give you a great back rub.

“Mary Mac’s is my favorite restaurant in all of Georgia”

If you own, manage or work for a restaurant (or just about any other business for that matter), you can learn several key ingredients for creating real customer delight by experiencing Mary Mac’s hospitality and savoring the food while learning best practices to implement in your own establishment.  The personal interactions and personal follow-up are two foundational elements of creating memorable customer delight that will keep patrons returning.

I encourage you to visit Mary Mac’s on your next visit to Atlanta; I can’t imagine going back to the Big Peach and not experiencing at least one meal at the best restaurant in all of Georgia. I plan to pick up an autographed cook book and a coffee mug on my next visit.

If you have experienced great service and/or great follow-up and engagement, compliment those involved, let upper management know and then let others know and encourage them to patronize these best-in-class establishments.  You’ll be glad you made the effort!

 

 

 

A couple of my previous posts on great service or saying thank you:

Are You Building Just a Product?

Most entrepreneurs are innovating products and building companies to commercialize their baby.   They have dreams of making it big (who doesn’t?), scaling up fast, selling to millions and getting acquired for big bucks or even attaining the “holy grail” of an IPO.  Unfortunately, we know that the dream of an IPO is actually much closer to “tilting at windmills” than “holy grail”.  Keep dreaming; big visions drive us to reach beyond ourselves and attain the impossible.

“Only 2% of companies sell for more than $2 million”

Challenging these dreams is the reality that a small percentage of companies enjoy success enough to pursue an IPO.  For those even fortunate enough to be able to sell their companies, the numbers are no less discouraging: 67% of businesses sell for less than $250,000, 18% sell for $250,000 – $500,000 and 9% sell for between $500,000 and $1,000,000. That’s 94% of businesses selling for less than $1 million.  Only 2% of companies command a price greater than $2 million*.  These are sobering numbers for entrepreneurs seeking to raise funds and forecasting big exits.  These are figures investors know all too well.  What keeps it all going is exemplified in the recent sale of Instagram and Facebook’s IPO.  Exciting, dream inducing potential for all entrepreneurial leaders.

“Make sure your team is positioned and prepared to be absorbed into an acquiring company”

For most entrepreneurs, innovating the product and building the company is their dream. There is however, another way to look at startups.  What if you begin with a great idea and just as you are gaining market success and maybe making some minor business model pivots, you get an offer?  What if that offer is not about your baby, but about the team nurturing the baby?  That’s exactly what happened to Glancee, a company with an app that “helps you discover and connect with new interesting people around you**”  In a May 5th, 2012 VentureBeat article, Jolie O’Dell gives us some insight into Facebook buying the company and killing the product. Glancee was acquired for its talent; their baby is gone from the App Store and Google Play’s Android apps.

Leaders generally do not consider themselves and their teams to be the company’s most valuable asset.  Their attention is laser focused on moving the product and company forward, raising funds, creating partnerships, making sales etc.  If we’re serious about growing companies and selling big, that laser focus must include our teams.  Your team just might be the real product and you need to be certain that as you are building a product, you are also leading and building your team.  Invest in your employees to the point they constitute the absolute best team you can bring together.  Accept nothing less than excellence in team capability and do everything you can so that your team is positioned and prepared to be absorbed into an acquiring company.  Finally, ensure your vision includes multiple success scenarios that your team understands; if your team is acquired, they’ll need to let go of their baby.

 

 

*Source: Inc Magazine, page 30 of the April 2012 issue.  Based on data provided by Bizcomps.

**Source: quote is from the VentureBeat article.

Saying Thank You with Style

A simple “Thank You” goes a long way when it is given in a heartfelt manner.  Gratitude can be shown verbally, with a simple sticky note, via a handwritten note and through a simple gift.

A month or so ago, I had the opportunity to provide a tour of our incubator to a group of Ohio Wesleyan University students, and invited two entrepreneurs to talk with the students and tell their stories of successes, challenges and plans.  I enjoy meeting students and learning what business ventures they are pursuing or what their career plans entail; it is always interesting. When the students arrived, my schedule was such that I could not invest more than a few moments with them; I even had to arrange for one of my compatriots to “volunteer” to give the tour.  Following the entrepreneurs’ conversation and tour, the group traveled back to campus.

The class’ professor, Rusty McClure,  serves as an adviser and Angel investor to numerous entrepreneurs.  In addition, he is a New York Times Best Selling Author, having written three books, Crosley; Cincinnatus; and Coral Castle.  A week or so after the students’ visit, I received a package; Rusty had sent signed copies of each of his novels as a thank you for arranging the visit.  In each book, Rusty wrote a unique inscription to me to accompany the book.  His novels will join other signed copies of books in my library; and these three will hold special value because of the personal connection.  This simple gesture, a gift of his own writings, is one of the more personal and meaningful “thank yous” I have received in a long time.

Rusty’s thoughtfulness has not only primed my summer reading list, it has encouraged me to reflect on how I can show appreciation to others for the little and big things they do. I have not written any books yet, but there are numerous ways to express a personal thank you. My good friend, Lori Crock, wrote about the impact of handwritten thank you notes as one example.  I’m confident I’ll be consciously creative in saying, writing and gifting thank yous in the future.  I am convinced that taking the time to express appreciation in unique ways will be worth the effort.

I encourage you to pick up a copies of Crosley; Cincinnatus; and Coral Castle and enjoy reading these good books.  I’m starting with Crosley, as it was the first one Rusty penned.

What unique “thank-you” have you given or received? How has it enriched your relationships?

Are you Ready for Mobile?

“We’re planning to have MobileX in Columbus again this summer”

Last week, I attended MobileX in Cincinnati along with 300 other entrepreneurs, investors, developers, and industry insiders interested in and/or pursuing mobile innovations. The conference, has been held in four cities since 2010: Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Lexington, Kentucky; and Nashville, Tennessee.  The gathering is a nexus of those passionate about mobile potential and has content and connections for everyone pursuing mobile opportunities and strategies.  MobileX’s differentiator is in bringing together a broad spectrum of professionals, from dabblers and serious coders to those building individual apps and those building businesses, to entrepreneurs seeking opportunities, to investors looking for potential and to industry insiders doing all of the above within their respective organizations. Attendees have an opportunity to learn and engage with some of the mobile industry’s experienced leaders, innovators and key players. Hands down, MobileX is a “DO NOT MISS” opportunity.

I almost did miss MobileX due to icy road conditions between Columbus & Cincinnati, passing 11 serious accidents (including 3 upside-down vehicles) en route.  The normally 2 hour drive was a grueling 4 hour adventure.  I missed the morning Keynote featuring Daniel Odio, Founder of Socialize who spoke on Capitalizing on the Mobile Tsunami.  Fortunately, video is available via Vimeo and his slides are on SlideShare. I recommend watching; it is a good opportunity to investigate key industry trends with someone with real expertise and who is innovative on the very edge of mobile engagement.  Hint: watch with headphones as the audio is difficult to hear in places. It will be worth the effort.

The conference is designed to engage professionals in ideation, learning, visioning and connecting across the breadth of mobile via 4 defined tracks.  Below is a brief summary of each track’s content and comments on the sessions I attended or wanted to attend.

Entrepreneurs

Focused on entrepreneurs and investing, it featured sessions with Josh Pressnell on building a business in mobile entitled  Keeping Your Head Above Water As An Indy Developer; an entrepreneurs’ panel focused on learnings and success in mobile; Josh Silverman (pictured), Founder of StudyEgg on leveraging lean business practices. This was an interesting look under the covers of how Josh founded and developed StudyEgg.  The Q&A was particularly insightful as Josh explained his reasoning behind specific strategies and near term plans; KickSend’s Brendan Lim had an overview of his Y-Combinator experience; and the day culminated with a panel discussion on investment and working with investors.

Technical

The Technical Track covered the nuts and bolts of building a mobile application or platform. Microsoft Evangelist Jeff Blankenburg, who was smart enough to drive to Cincy the night before the event, presented on Windows Phone Development; X.com’s Praveen Alavilli emphasized Getting Your Feet Wet with Mobile Commerce;  Synthetic Corp’s Sam Soffes spoke on iOS Development; and Appcelerator’s Anthony Decena addressed Cross-Platform Mobile Development.  This track was capped off with a panel discussion featuring the four presenters.

Marketing and Social Media

This popular track focused on leveraging mobile technologies to effectively market your company.  It featured Mobile Marketing 101 guided by Krista Neher, founder of Bootcampdigital I have enjoyed Krista’s presentations in the past and recommend learning from her. I wanted to listen to her again at this conference and learn how the industry is evolving via marketing/mobile integration, but her session conflicted with another I also wanted to attend. When I talked with Krista, she indicated she will not be able to make MobileX Lexington in a few weeks. Additional topics included Novel Uses of SMS with Josh Bob, founder of Turnstar; Social Networking’s Role in Mobile, with more insights provided by morning Keynote Daniel Odio founder of Socialize (by the way, Daniel’s blog is an excellent resource); and Demystifying the Hype in Mobile with David Ip.  This track also tied the day together by ending with a panel discussion featuring the speakers.

Corporate and Enterprise Track

This interesting track covered “mobilizing” the corporation from the inside the enterprise and the implications from a prioritization, investment and corporate perspective.  Breakouts included David Ip and Enterprise Uses of Mobile. I attended this presentation and it was an excellent overview of the internal processes and strategies that have shaped Bluecross Blueshield’s foray into mobile applications and where they might be headed. It was instructive for industry insiders seeking to draw their own organizations into mobile; Additional sessions included RockFish’s Eric Bishop on Enterprise Mobile Applications;  SparkPeople founders Chris Downie & Dave Heilmann; Verizon’s Rob Moretti with Go Mobile or Go HomeI sat in on this one also, and it was an excellent overview of the evolution of mobile capabilities, where global communication services are headed and opportunities to be exploited. This track also culminated in a panel discussion.

Hands-On Workshop

Targeted to developers wanting to dive into Android and iOS app development with Christopher Rider & Eric Rolf, Learning to Program Your First iOS App in the morning.  In the afternoon the workshop continued, focused on developing, marketing, and launching an app.

MobileX ended on a high note with a pitch contest featuring great ideas presented in a 3 slide, 3 minutes, 3 questions format. Venturepax won the day with a site to capture and share adventures. It is a cool idea with strong potential for product tie-ins and multiple revenue streams. Sign up for updates; it will be interesting.

“Hands down, MobileX is a ‘Do Not Miss’ opportunity”

The next MobileX is in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday, April 13th.  It will be held at the smaller (and pretty cool) Awesome Inc., so tickets will go fast. Reserve your spot today; you’ll have a great time, network with inspiring people and experience a full day of learning. I’ll be there, I hope you will be too.

We’re planning to have MobileX in Columbus again this summer and we are working on details right now. I’ll kep you posted & let me know if you are interested in joining in on an excellent day of opportunity.

Note: Portrait images and the MobileX header are from the conference website or LinkedIn.

Are you Leading to Greatness?

A good friend of mine describes an interesting incident in one of his startups.  As the company grew rapidly and added employees, it became necessary to provide structure in a variety of areas and my friend drew up an “org chart” to help employees understand roles & accountabilities and to avoid duplication of effort which was becoming more common. The company was maturing, growing out of the no-holds-barred-startup phase while still very much a startup.

“The real issue was focus, and the team had lost it”

His org chart was the first in the company’s short history.  He introduced the organizational structure at a team meeting and had general buy in that the document describing their structure represented pretty much what was already in place.  Within a few days however, dissension and chaos contaminated the culture. In-fighting and positioning was rampant as the team focused on the paper and the real and perceived implications of a documented structure.  Politics and alliances became a priority. Did blank boxes mean someone would be hired “ahead” of an existing employee?  Why does Don now report officially to Mary? Aren’t they just part of a short term solution team? Will raises and opportunities be limited by the chart? I need you to attend this meeting because you work for me… Blah Blah Blah.

This was a pivotal moment in the company’s life. Instead of addressing individual concerns and trying to mollify expectations and smooth over hurt feelings, my friend wisely knew that such short term fixes would only fuel the fires.  The real issue was focus, and the team had lost it. As CEO, he had to restore it.

Another team meeting was held before the week was over, and a new org chart was presented to employees:

The message was clear: Every job in the company must be customer focused at all times.

“My friend knew short term fixes would only fuel the fires”

Employees got the message and regained focus on their #1 priority. The first org chart did become the structure that enabled the company to continue growth, and there was some strain as the organization and individuals adjusted over time.  My friend handled the situation exceptionally well by setting the standard above the pettiness and placing emphasis on the focus of the growing organization. After all, his purpose as CEO was and is to lead the organization to greatness.

Have you had similar experiences where employees lost focus on the real priorities or where a leader made a decision above the fray?  I’d love to hear about it!

Are You Ready for the Holidays?

The Christmas season used to catch me off guard every year.  I look forward to Christmas like a little kid and as my own kids were born/adopted my enjoyment grew exponentially.  I now look forward to the holiday season with great expectations. What I found for several years running was that I was so consumed with work, kids’ school activities & sports, and Christmas parties that by the time Christmas rolled around, I was exhausted and too tired to enjoy being home with my family.  I wanted to sleep in rather than get up before dawn on Christmas mornings.   In addition, hosting extended family members in our home or traveling to relatives’ homes became stressful.  A few years ago, I decided to make a change. Instead of facing the holidays exhausted, I would be rested and ready to enjoy our family time together to the fullest.

“Make family time the highest of your priorities”

Most of the changes involved my approach to work, the related parties and returning to the office after the holidays.  I don’t have much control over my kids’ sports schedules and Christmas concerts and I want to be at every activity involving them. I also want to be up and awake when they get up to open presents (I actually made them wait on me a couple of years!).  I have slightly more control over visiting family members and our travel schedules, however I am unwilling to curtail that time as it another source of cherished memories. So, I focus on how to best manage work approaching the holidays. My wife and I have demanding careers and the decisions we have made in terms of priorities are paying dividends.  I have adopted seven strategies that have made a tangible difference.

Put family first. Make family time the highest priority.  My kids will remember that I was at their concerts and cheering loudly at their sporting events.  My wife will know I was with her and the kids rather than in front of the computer or on the phone when family should have my undivided attention. My family won’t know about or care about the work I did that drew me away from them. They will and do remember the conversations, meals together, hugs and high fives. Good memories and constant interaction are the foundation of great relationships as kids move into and through their teen years and beyond.

Get more sleep.  During the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I work hard at getting additional sleep. Being a night person, I’m usually awake until the early morning hours.  My goal between the holidays is lights out at midnight, meaning I gain at least an hour of sleep a night.  The net result a week or two after Turkey Day is that I’m more rested in general.  Perhaps I should make this a year round habit…

Avoid year-end deadlines like the plague. They are just a bad idea and a recipe for failure plus they can destroy personal and team morale. The schedule we kept during Y2K as my team transitioned to new systems made a lasting impression – round the clock work and no time off.  I haven’t scheduled a year-end deadline since then and never will again.

Schedule as few meetings as possible the week prior to Christmas. Most weeks I average over 20 appointments and networking activities.  During various sports seasons, my kids’ activities can mean we’re busy every night of the week and on weekends; the week before Christmas is full of basketball games. I use this final week before Christmas to make sure I am caught up on reporting or planning so I don’t have unfinished business hanging over my head I feel obligated to finish but am unlikely to actually do during vacation.  I schedule lots of meetings for January leading up to and during this week. The big benefit is that now the week leading up to vacation is far less stressful than before I made the changes.

“It’s not too late to implement some of these ideas this year”

Don’t check voicemails during vacation.  During my time off, I do not check voicemail unless one of my high priority contacts calls me (think boss, key coworkers and key partners only).  My voicemail indicates I will return calls when I resume working following the break, and I do so the first morning I’m back in the office.  Any calls I receive requiring attention during vacation remind me to be thankful for the great team I work with daily and to be thankful I enjoy my vocation immensely.  I take care of these interruptions as quickly as possible, being careful not to interrupt or delay family activities. One great advantage of letting the voicemails wait is that I don’t get “new work” before the New Year that might have artificial year end deadlines.

Skim emails during vacation.  I scan through email during the holidays, usually late at night, to weed out unimportant newsletters and messages that do not require attention.  Anything necessitating my attention or a response is marked unread or turned into a task with a January completion date.  I work through emails when finished with voicemails beginning the first day back from vacation.  The benefit of scanning emails is that instead of hundreds of unread emails waiting for me when I return from vacation creating that sense of “now I’ll never catch up”; I have maybe a hundred messages that are easily managed the first few days back in the office.  Plus, I’ve mentally prioritized a few that require “immediate attention”.  I am able to get back to Inbox Zero in short order.

Reserve the first week back for recovery and planning.  I avoid scheduling meetings as much as possible the week following New Years.  I use the first week of the year to return voicemails, go through emails and to prepare for meetings I have set up for the following weeks.  The advantage of doing this is I am not juggling meetings, carving out time for catching up and feeling overwhelmed.  This simple step has reduced the stress of the first week back from vacation for me immensely.

Some of my ideas may be obvious or seem impossible to consider, much less attempt. It’s not too late to begin implementing some of these ideas for this year. Choose one and try it; enjoy the payoff.  It took me a couple of years to ingrain all seven into my routines and the hard work it took to do so and now to maintain is worth the effort.  I’m more productive at work both before and after the holidays and I’m a much better husband and father during the vacation.  My eager anticipation of the holidays is better now than ever and our family priorities and traditions are creating lasting memories.

I’m interested in any additional ideas and strategoies you have tried; there is always room for personal improvement.

TEDxColumbus III Reflections

“I was refreshed with new ideas and invigorated with action items”

On Friday, November 11th, the 3rd annual TEDxColumbus delivered just what was advertised – Discovery, Innovation, Experience and Pleasure – and more: Conversation, Connection, and Reflection.  Co-curated by Ruth Milligan and Nancy Kramer, this year’s event was held at Columbus’ hands-on science center, COSI.  If you live in Central Ohio, I highly recommend becoming a member and supporter. TEDxColumbus was made possible by a variety of passionate individuals and organizations.

The morning kicked off COSI style: a rendition of the 1812 Overture complete with fiery explosions of hydrogen filled balloons. The cannon blasts rocked the room in time with the Overture & set the tone of discovery and experience for what would be an outstanding day of learning.

There were over 20 presenters and performers, all of whom sparked thinking and conversation.  Hands down, the one that caused me to think the most and take action was a presentation by Theresa Flores who shared her personal experience of being a victim of human trafficking and out of that misery, what she has done to make a difference.  Her presentation led me to reflect on my own ignorance of the subject and what I can do.  Being the father of a smart, outgoing daughter and uncle to amazing nieces, I’ve shared Theresa’s story with my wife, family and several friends, including our church’s youth minister.  This is the one TEDx presentation that should be included in TEDGlobal 2012. Please take a few minutes and watch Theresa’s presentation.  If you have kids, it will hit home.

Another presentation worth viewing is MIT Researcher Deb Roy‘s innovative “The Birth of a Word“, which video chronicles the first couple of years of Deb’s son’s life and how he attached meaning to language and learned to communicate verbally.  Deb goes on to use his event and semantic analysis techniques to visually represent media consumption around events and bits of content via social graphs.  Deb’s research is giving us new ways to look at interactions of people and data connecting context and social dynamics.


“I am richer for this experience”

Mark Berman shared with us the remarkable micro word of bugs and spiders, surprising us with the intelligence of a jumping spider and it’s view of Mark. The relevant message is that we live in an astounding world of near infinite detail that we overlook at our macro-level.  The solution? Take a moment and look closely and what appears mundane will reveal the exceptional.

Lunch was provided in every corner of COSI, and  the challenge was finding “your place” and then the pleasure was sharing and enjoying a meal. What began as simply eating lunch with a small group of strangers became a memorable experience with new friends. Excellent conversation ensued and new connections with vibrant individuals were made. I took the picture as we were deep in conversation; it is my favorite image from the event.  My time at lunch and during the breaks allowed me to reflect, discuss, learn and bond with several individuals I might not cross paths with normally.  I am definitely richer for this experience.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of TEDxColumbus is the opportunity to interact and learn in an environment unencumbered by email, phone and the everyday demands of work.  I reluctantly left COSI and TEDxColumbus; I was simultaneously tired from being stretched, refreshed with new ideas and invigorated with a handful of action items.  I’d love to know your experiences and thoughts!

To learn more about TEDxColumbus and become involved:

NOTE: Photo of Theresa Flores from the TEDxColumbus Live Blog.