Innovation and Customer Loyalty OR Toe Sucking Bill Gates. (Pick your title.)

The last few blog postings, I started spewing off about customer loyalty: and mainly, how to keep customers and how to identify those clients that may be evil.  I love that line: Evil Clients.  I just do.  It’s so empowering.

Of course, I’m also sure those clients who read my blog probably HATE those words, secretly worried you are an Evil Client.  Trust me, you aren’t.  Evil Clients are few and far between, as scarce as the A1 seat assignment on Southwest Airlines.  In my 13 years of owning US Event Photos, I’ve run into less than half a dozen clients I would really call Evil Clients.  And, typically, we do one job for them — and since they don’t like us any more than we like them — it is hasta la vista, baby!  They aren’t ringing our phone off the hook, and I don’t send them an email saying how great they were to work with.  Trust me, Evil Clients don’t read my crazy blog.  They can’t get past the title, which this week I’m particularly proud of.

So, Evil Clients out of the way you are probably thinking: my business is dinky and doesn’t have a customer loyalty program.  We already treat our customers well, they stick around, yippie doodle do, I’m growing bored with your rantings about a free bottle of water.

Well.  A thought occurred to me while I was showering this morning at the Sheraton BWI Airport — a one out of every 6 nights stay.

Of course keeping clients, and increasing business from your existing customers, takes more than just being gracious, kind and treating them like rock stars.

After all, if what you are selling is sucky, they won’t stay around even if you are offering to shrimp their toes with every sale.

(Now, I need to explain that line.  I used it on Facebook to promote another blog post, and one of my friends didn’t know what the hell it meant.  Here’s the sex ed talk you never had from your parents.  Listen.  Shrimping of toes means placing another toes in your mouth and sucking.  Perhaps licking.  It’s something done, typically, with those who have foot fetishes.  I do not.  Please don’t ask me to shrimp your toes.  I think it’s kinda gross.)

(Another note:  don’t be pissy.  This blog is specifically meant NOT to be corporate.  If you want a corporate blog, there are lots of those.  They are better than Lunesta.  My blog is a rant from my brain, which is a little on the special needs side.)

Back to my diatribe. If what you’re selling sucks, no one will buy it.  If you are a lousy photographer (and people realize this), no one will hire you.  If you screw up even one job, kiss your client buh-bye.  What you are selling has to be great.

I’ll go a step further.  Let’s say for the moment you are a bit wanting in the customer service department.  Let’s say, um, I dunno, you basically don’t like people.  So, being nice to them is a challenge.  It’s ok!  We all have our strengths.

You can still be successful.  In fact, you can be filthy rich.  Look at that dude who developed Facebook, that forum that connects you to all those high school friends you never really liked. Suffering through the movie (who knows how accurate THAT was), and just general gossip — people don’t really like him that much.  He’s kind of a loner, geeky.  Happy to eat pizza and watch Married with Children while cheering on Al.  Yet he developed something everyone wanted.  Facebook.

He innovated.

Innovation is probably the single biggest thing I can think of that drives business to success.  Think about it.  Why is Southwest (one of those brands I’m fiercely loyal) successful?

God knows it’s not for plush seats, great business class, lots of room, or great graphic design.  (Sorry, Southwest, I love you, but United has pretty graphics.)

They are the number one domestic airline because of innovation:  they ditched many, many ideas held as sacred cows by the airline industry and transformed the business.  Some of those ideas have taken adjustment: no assigned seating.  Some have been rock stars since the beginning.

What has really worked?  Having a fleet of planes that, basically, are all the same.  I am writing this from a Southwest gate.  They just announced a flight was delayed (not mine, suck that travel gods) because they “had to switch out an aircraft”.  That means, the original plane needs TLC, and they swapped out another plane to take over. How can they do this?  Innovation:  they run airplanes that are almost all the same.  They can swap out one part for another, one plane for another, without huge aggravation.  That means a 30 minute delay instead of a 3 hour delay, or even cancellation.

But the key to Southwest’s success may be their lack of hub flight.  United, American, Delta, etc., all fly using hubs.  You go from a smaller city to a big one, that serves as a hub.  Then from the hub to the destination.  The result is:  delay.  Let’s see:  O’hare.  A major hub.  (And in truth, Southwest uses Midway as a hub).  How easy is it to get in and out of O’hare?  I bet you just love it, don’t you?

While Southwest may use some airports in a hub style — Midway, BWI, etc., — they aren’t hubs in the traditional sense of the word.  And, they offer many, many more flights (and more frequently) from city to city, point to point.  Any time you aren’t landing and getting back on another plane, you and your luggage have a better chance of not being delayed.

So, Innovation rocks business, and means your competitors scramble to keep up.  I’ve been in Nashville doing two events: one, The Special Event, was to promote our business to event planners.  The other, ABA 2014, we were working for the City of St. Louis.  For St. Louis, we did a photo execution at the convention, and a huge gala where we did four simultaneous executions. That was COOL.

Let’s back up to TSE, the event where we were pimping ourselves.  The entire point of the convention is to show off innovation.  The final keynote is a 3 hour long extravaganza specifically targeting “hot” ideas for event planning.  

And there were some great ideas.  But there was a bunch of crap being passed off as “new” and “innovative” that were anything but. (I’m speaking of the convention, not the final keynote speech.)  Some of the newest and greatest ideas may not make it to the next TSE, because they didn’t have the money to promote and explain themselves the way you have to promote and explain yourself at a convention.

Well that sucks, doesn’t it? That business who are innovative still may not be successful. The really great ideas get lost to oblivion because they lack money to get started! So, while innovation may make your business rock — it doesn’t guarantee you’ll survive the year. “Crap,” you are thinking, “I guess I have to go back to that toe shrimping business plan.”

Back to Southwest.  When I landed, my golf bag, which I carry a lot of my lighting equipment in, didn’t land.  This, despite a non-stop flight.  My suitcase full of very expensive designer clothes did make it, so I was not forced to be nude in our booth.  But not the golf bag.

It wasn’t on the next flight, either.  Or the one after that.

Melanie, Bob and I went to dinner.

“Not to worry!” I said, exuding confidence, “I bet you I get a call at 2 am saying the suitcase has arrived.”

No call.  I got up the next morning wondering what backup plan to use to replace the equipment in the lost bag.

I went down for the free La Quinta yummy breakfast of stale bagel and hard cream cheese toasted to slow dehydration in your typical hotel toaster.

And there, sitting at the front desk, was my golf bag.

They’d delivered it late in the night.

And that’s why I’m so loyal to Southwest.  They innovate.  They deliver.  And they do it all the time.

Another year of Southwest flights.