no refund, no credibility, no business

I can’t give you a refund. I can only exchange it.”

Welcome to 1986, except that it’s 2013. Remember when things were difficult to return for a refund? You had to have the receipt, there were forms to fill out, and you had to deal with someone who was too bureaucratically rigid to do government work. And it had to truly be defective. You wouldn’t dream of attempting to return something simply because you (or your spouse) decided you didn’t want it.

All that changed when more and more stores realized there was a real long-term advantage to having you come to the store to return things. After all: 1) you were in the store and likely to buy more; 2) it created good will that made you want to return; and 3) the few that might abuse the return policy are more than countered by everyone else.

That’s one of the real secrets to Zappos. Make it easy to return or exchange items. Reduce the perceived risk of purchasing to almost nil. Never make the customer feel bad or stupid about their purchase. Actually, that’s not a secret at all. It’s right on display for all the world to see. And to ignore. And to wonder why Zappos is doing great while other businesses flounder.

In a rare family trip to the mall this weekend, my daughter purchased a curling iron from one of the booths in the middle of the mall. The salesman had curled a bit of her hair as a demonstration and she’d liked the results enough to make a purchase. But, it didn’t work as promised and over the next hour, the curl came out. We went back to return it and were told, “No refunds”. In fairness, there was a sign declaring “no refunds” and it was also stamped on the back of the receipt. Buyer beware.

Except, so what. Let’s look at the much bigger picture:

  1. Malls are struggling – that’s not opinion, that’s business article fodder.
  2. My pre-teen daughter is just a few short years from having a job, disposable income, and needing a safe place to meet friends.
  3. She now sees the mall as a place where businesses don’t stand behind their products. And that’s my nice way of putting it. I suspect she sees the mall as a place where businesses can rip you off.
  4. She already likes and is in the habit of buying books with her Kindle. It’s a small jump from books to other items.
  5. She is not alone.

That last one is the most important point. Dwell on it for a while. This isn’t about her, it’s about a pattern. It’s about establishing and building credibility and reputation or allowing it to be whittled away. It’s about missing the steady drip, drip, drip that becomes a river of movement away from an already troubled business model. Thinking about it, I’m actually pretty surprised that the anchor stores and the mall management allow smaller shops to do anything that might hurt their overall credibility and reputation.

Sure, the bigger stores can fairly and logically argue that they have nothing to do with the little booths. Except, so what? It’s guilt by association. Purchases are made with emotion, not logic.

Will anyone miss the malls when they are gone?



[Note: this may seem like a lot about one stupid curling iron. Except it’s not. It’s about bigger patterns happening in the world right now. It’s about Human Resources, sales, and customer service. It’s about retail, not-for-profit, and restaurants. It’s about business and humans. The world is changing quickly and reputation matters. Being right isn’t nearly as important as your credibility and the feelings your customer has toward you.]



We hear about “customer loyalty” and “employee loyalty” and I have trouble fitting these concepts into my brain. “Loyalty” – to me – is a very important virtue. It says I will support you even when it’s difficult for me, even when I don’t want to, even when it is against my best interest. Loyalty – again, to me – is two way: you bleed for me and I bleed for you. Perhaps it’s because I hold loyalty so dear I find it offensive when it’s watered down and treated as a one-way relationship.

“Customer loyalty” seems to mean that I simply prefer your products and services and choose them over others. Not much virtue in that. I might prefer your brand because of what I think it says about me or because of quality or price or because your business happens to simply be convenient for me. Calling it “customer loyalty” implies that the customer is at fault if they shop with a competitor. Yet, am I “disloyal” – is there infidelity – if I purchase elsewhere? No, I’ve made no commitments to you. No, oaths or vows. You provide a product or service. I exchange money for it. You make a profit and I gain a product or service I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide by myself. That’s the extent of our relationship.

I received an email a month or two ago from one of the universities I attended. They thought it would be swell if I thought I should send them a check. In fact, they thought it would be swell if I thought I had an obligation to send them a check. The email actually stated: “Your support of [X University] signifies your loyalty and belief in the university, its traditions, and the power of [X University] to impact the world.

I have a difficult time writing my thoughts about that sentence without using a lot of swear words. “Signifies”???? Signifies to whom? Who’s going to know? Am I signifying my loyalty to their accounting department? My “loyalty and belief”?!? Did I take a blood oath when I graduated? Was I knighted? Did I swear any kind of allegiance to the university’s traditions? What traditions?

Here’s the extent of my loyalty and belief in the university: I gave them money, they let me attend classes, and after a certain number of classes they gave me a degree. It’s a business transaction. An exchange of money for services.

I understand that some (many? most?) people feel a connection to the university they attended. It might even be a part of how they identify themselves, of how they think about who they are. Which makes that email all the more offensive. It’s preying off of people’s desire to be virtuous and loyal, yet providing nothing in return, not even a t-shirt or window sticker for their car. They want me to think I owe them something – that I must continue to prove loyalty –  because I chose to attend their university over a decade ago. That’s a manipulative one-way relationship and the very definition of servitude, not loyalty.

This was just an example, but how often do we do this and think our customers or our employees “owe” us something out of “loyalty”. They owe us money for our products or services, they owe us work for their paycheck. AND we owe them products or services for their money, we owe them a paycheck for their work. But once the debt is settled, it’s settled.

The best companies get this. The companies with the best reputation for customer service focus on better serving the customer’s need versus focusing on figuring out how to better get the customer to serve the company’s needs. That’s a key distinction. They know that if the customer was “disloyal” the problem is with the company, not the customer.

Hopefully our customers and employees stick around, but it’s up to us to earn their loyalty daily, not assume it or insist on it.

What thinks you?


hr’s missed opportunity to generate revenue

Blatant product placement or morning prep to speak at #ilshrm13 ? Does Red Bull sponsor HR speakers? What if I promise to be “extreme”?

I posted this comment along with the picture at the right while waiting for my co-presenter so we could go over our notes before presenting later that morning at the Illinois SHRM conference (yes, those are my authentic, actual speaker notes). I thought it was really funny in a ridiculous sort of way. Red Bull sponsoring “extreme” HR? So many paradoxes and contradictions. They sponsor stunt planes, insane jumps on bicycles and motorcycles, parachuting from record heights. Their image is all about athletes pushing the boundaries of possibility, not the middle age guy talking about company culture. Funny, right?

Almost immediately, Kris Dunn (@kris_dunn) from HR Capitalist and Fistfull of Talent responded, “Hey Broc, believe it or not, at FOT we got contacted about placement… Workforce application of red bull, etc…

Apparently there is nothing so ludicrous that it isn’t true somewhere.

I think this just might be HR’s chance to generate revenue through product placement, sponsorships, and advertising. What are some of the natural fits? Pharmaceuticals, diet and fitness, health care? How about day care, dry cleaning, and maid service? Car dealers and home builders? Universities?

When it comes to placement or ads, there’s the obvious approach of putting posters in the hallways or covering our desks or company shirts with logos until they look like race cars straight outta NASCAR. But what about sponsoring company picnics and the requisite Christmas party? Attaching ads to the side of email like in gmail or Facebook like ad placement in the Learning Management System? What about training – there’s so much that could be done inside of training programs that it really feels like a missed opportunity.

What if we named HR programs after the sponsor? For example, we could have the University X Tuition Reimbursement Program. Could we take it to the policy level? Is any sponsor willing to slap their name on or in the handbook? Anyone want some publicity every time the dress code is mentioned? (“Sorry, that beard is in violation of the Sponsor Y Grooming Guidelines.”)

I’m going to stop myself right there. Before I close, I need to emphasize three points:

1. I’m kidding.

2. If companies are not already doing this, I’m confident we’ll be seeing it inside of three years. After all, it’s already in the school system with advertising sponsored “educational” news content.

3. Given points #1 and #2 and my love of paradox, if Red Bull wants to sponsor my global adventures as an HR speaker, I’m more than willing to talk. I already have a few ideas on which metal bands I want to have open for me…

screwing up giving the customer what they want

A couple weeks back I purchased an adapter to hook an iPad to the projector at work for an upcoming presentation. It turned out we didn’t need it so I brought it back unopened to return it. It turns out the store has a two week limit on returns and I was a few days past.

At that moment in time, the clerk has a few choices:

1) Hold to policy and deny the return.

2) Cheerfully accept the return explaining how normally policy wouldn’t allow it but because it’s unopened and close enough to the deadline he’s happy to take it back.

3) Point out the deadline. Act as though I’m trying to get something past him. Seem irritated. Stare at the receipt. Ask if I knew there was a deadline. Stare at the receipt longer. Seem more irritated. Proclaim that he’ll take the item after all in a but-you-better-not-try-this-nonsense-again tone of voice.

Unfortunately, he chose #3. Even though I got my money back, I would have been happier with #1. Rigid policy is silly, but not as blatantly stupid as being condescending to the customer. The $34 will not change my life. If he had stuck to policy, I would have been annoyed, but I would have understood because I did not follow the rules clearly written on the receipt. My bad.

If he had done the second option, I would have been thrilled. I would have understood this was something special and felt like he’d looked out for me and done me a favor.

Number three though… The sad thing about the option he chose was that I’m sure he thought he was doing the second option. He did take the return. I didn’t have to argue for it. He did bend the rules for me. He also made it clear that I was a thorn in his side, talked down to me, and left me feeling a bit of an idiot.

So close, yet so far.

It makes me wonder if I ever do that to my internal customers. Do I ever give them what they want but in a way that’s difficult, obnoxious, or makes them feel like an interruption? Do I confuse solving their problems with providing great service? Am I grateful for them or do I serve them begrudgingly? Do I ever almost give great service and then mess it up at the end?

I don’t think so, but that’s not quite as important as what they think, is it?

HR math: CX<EX

For all the talk of customer experience, very little is given to the employee experience. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in creating a great customer experience. It’s crucial for any kind of repeat business and long-term success, it’s critical for word-of-mouth endorsements and buzz, it’s a necessity to differentiate from competing businesses. And so what?

It’s been said that the customer experience never exceeds the employee experience. I shorthand that into a simple math formula: CX<EX. If the employee experience is unpleasant, micromanaged, and rigid I can hardly expect the customers to receive a warm, open, uniquely customized experience. On a scale of 1-10, if the employees have a “1” experience, the customers will NOT receive a “10” experience.

It’s funny how we talk so much about creating the customer experience, but the employee experience seems to be an afterthought or we take a shotgun approach.  We forget that, no matter what our intentions, strategy, or CX metrics, it’s the employees who deliver the customer experience. Yes, work has to be done, high standards need to be met (exceeded), profits must be made. But somewhere along the way we get confused and think that work, standards, and profits are at the expense of the employee instead of because of the employee.

The great thing about employee experience is that it doesn’t have to be based on hope, chance, or luck. We can actually design it. We can give focused intentional thought to the experience we want them to have and how to create it.

We don’t often think about creating an intentional employee experience, so if you want an easy place to start ask yourself this: What is our ideal customer experience? How do we want customers to describe their experience with us to their friends?

Now build that experience for your employees.

the one question HR misses

We all have one question hammering away at the front of our skulls whenever we’re faced with something new or different. You’re asking yourself the question right now as you decide whether to continue reading or not. It’s a simple and straight-forward question that HR often misses: What’s In It For Me?

Phrased that way, it sounds crass and selfish, yet we are all seeking to figure out how we will benefit. We want to know what pleasure we’ll gain or what pain we’ll avoid. We want to know What’s In It For Me?

Sales and Marketing 101 tells us to focus on the benefits, not the product or service. The customer can plainly see the product, so we need to help them understand all that they will gain. They know the tangibles, so what are the intangibles?

A car’s just a box with wheels, good for hauling people and stuff from point A to B. Yet car ads focus on the unmeasurable intangibles of cool, intelligent, adventurous, unique, practical, sporty, sexy, thrilling, rugged, safe, ecogreen, patriotic, etc. etc. A house is nothing more than some walls and a roof, but we know that. Real estate ads show happy, safe, secure kids, and proud responsible parents; they show lifestyle, status, and image; and the American Dream (with a capital “D”).

There is not a single human alive who wants to diet. Yet, at any given time there are millions and millions of people dieting, buying diet books, watching diet shows, reading diet blogs, spending money on diet plans. Why? Because of what we think it will get us; because of what’s in it for us. My absolute all-time favorite diet book title is: 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. I know nothing about the book but love the title because it’s so eye catching. There are a lot of reasons to diet, but forget dieting for health, physical performance, longevity, or fighting disease because this book knows its audience and its audience loooooves the ideas of being skinnier than their friends. The title immediately lets them know What’s In It For Me.

This is where HR can learn big from sales and marketing. HR tends to announce new programs and services by talking about the program and service. It seems reasonable, but even the most hack salesperson knows you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. HR forgets to sell at all. We think just putting it out in the world is enough. We don’t mention the benefits, we don’t help people understand why they should care, we don’t show them What’s In It For Me?. And then we’re surprised when the response is a collective yawn from the organization. We’re shocked that people aren’t using it – that they keep using the products or systems they are familiar with rather than the new ones they’d have to learn. We’re appalled that people don’t appreciate all our hard work and efforts on their behalf. We wail, They just don’t understand! [sob!]

The best products and services in the world are irrelevant and worthless if people don’t know about them or use them. I wonder how much adoption rates will jump when we learn human psychology from sales and marketing and answer one simple question for our customers.

What’s In It For Me?

HR hero

Today, I’m guest blogging over at Melissa Fairman’s  HR Remix site. A quick taste:

Us humans place a lot of weight on our heroes. We need them to inspire us to be better, to set an example, to show us the way, to push back the edges of what we thought was possible.

Who are your HR heroes?

Brian Tracy has said that if you don’t love what you’re doing enough to strive to be in the top 20%, you’re probably in the wrong field. What’s it mean to be in the top 20% of HR? Who do you consider in the top 20% of HR? Who do you look up to as a role model or example of who and how you want to be? Who is setting the pace for you?

Follow the link to see the rest: HR hero.

announcing my book: “what thinks you?”

WoooHooo!!! I’m very excited to announce that my book what thinks you? a fool’s eye view of human resources is now available on in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Intended more as firestarter for discussion than an answer book what thinks you? is a compilation of my 65 most HR focused blog posts. It captures the humor, drama, pathos, and cognitive dissonance of my hopes, dreams, and fears about where HR is and where it could be. (Ok, clearly there is a reason I’m in HR and not marketing.)

Why buy a book of something that’s already freely available on my blog?

  • Doug Shaw did the cover art and Joe Gerstandt contributed the forward. That combination right there makes it worth getting even if you never read the other stuff.
  • You’re in HR and want a quick reference (Actually, don’t get it for that. I’m pretty sure I edited all the facts out, leaving only questions and personal opinions).
  • Books are cool – you have a preference for reading from paper.
  • Read it anywhere without having to drag the entire internet along to access it (etherwebz are heavy and don’t fit on airplanes very well).
  • You don’t have to wade through my other ramblings to get to the good HR stuff.
  • Easy to share, give as gift, or just leave lying around so people can see how cool/smart/plugged in you are.
  • It’s cheaper than a morning trip to the coffee house. Because the content is free on my blog I’ve priced it as low as CreateSpace (the publisher/printer) will allow. $5.49 for the paperback and $0.99 for the Kindle version. Bargain.


Here’s the description from Amazon:

In the crush of computerization, standardization, quantification, industrialization, information, and regulation, we often forget that it’s actual humans that create business results. Business gets done through, by, and for people. Period. The pages inside are a collection of posts from the blog fool (with a plan). I wrote them as an outlet to connect, explore, and play with ideas at the intersection of business and humans. This isn’t HR 101 or a how-to guide for new leaders, and you certainly won’t find any help within on demystifying employment laws and regulations. There are a lot of really great books offering legal, moral, ethical, and spiritual advice, but there’s none of that here. There may not even be any actual facts. What you will find are thoughts, questions, ideas, and more questions around this fool’s perspective of what HR is and what it could be.

You see, I’m foolish enough to firmly believe that Human Resources can: rehumanize work. … make a crucial difference in company performance. … be a strong corporate presence, not just a bystander. … be a source of strategic innovation. … change business. … lead.

What thinks you?


I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the book. Hit me up in the comments, email me, or just post a review on Amazon.

that’s why they pay you

You know the drill. Someone complains about how tough their job is or how much they dislike their work and the immediate response is: Duh! Of course it’s not fun. That’s why they pay you. They know you wouldn’t show up otherwise. We snicker and think: Yeah. Get back to work, slacker. You’re not paid to have fun. Suck it up and cash your check on payday.

What a load of bassackwards crap! (to use the technical term)

On the surface it sounds right and it’s kind of humorous and I’ve certainly bought into it before. Dig deeper and we see it’s a kneejerk response that gets everything backwards and wrong.

It is true that if we didn’t pay people they wouldn’t show up. But it’s not because we’re compensating them for the opportunity to inflict misery on them. It’s because of opportunity costs. People need to feed, clothe, shelter, and take care of themselves and their families and they have only so many hours in a day to do it. Waaaayyy back when, they did all this themselves through hunting, gathering, and whatnot. Today people provide specialized skills in exchange for money to trade with others for the goods and services they need. Even if they absolutely loved, loved, loved their jobs we’d still have to pay them. Otherwise, they’d have to: 1) learn to hunt and gather; 2) starve; or 3) find someone else who will pay them for their skills.

We don’t pay people to endure us, we pay people because they bring knowledge and skills that we can repackage and sell through the products they create or the services they provide. In effect, the company becomes the middle man between the employee and the consumer and hopefully adds some value along the way by combining the talents of the employees to produce more/better/faster than they could do on their own.

If it were true that we pay people because we knew they wouldn’t do the job otherwise then the most miserable jobs in the worst working conditions should (by this logic) earn the most money. So, people become fieldhands and work in slaughterhouses for the money??? Um, no. Conversely, how often have you heard of someone getting a cut in pay because they are too passionate about their work?

The idea that pay and misery are directly correlated makes no sense yet we cling to it. How many employees think that their mere presence is enough to justify a paycheck? How many managers think that their employees would be happier and more productive if they could only pay them more? How often do we justify subjecting employees to unnecessarily rigid work conditions, nanny policies, or toddler-tantrum leaders with a dismissive, “Well, they get paid…” At best, it’s a lousy excuse for pathetic, apathetic, lazy leadership and really bad business decisions.

And employee engagement is down? People are dreaming of working elsewhere? We’re afraid of what they might say about us on social media? Huh, weird. Probably just coincidence. I once heard someone say, “People don’t leave because it’s difficult. They leave because it’s not worth dealing with anymore.” Seems pretty true from my experience and observation.

People aren’t compensated for occupying desks, their difficulties, or as a license to abuse them. People are paid for the value they provide through the problems they solve and the results they create. That’s not revolutionary, just too often forgotten by both employees and the company.

So why do people keep showing up for work? Hopefully, they’re getting appropriately compensated for working on the problems and results they enjoy, find fulfilling, and inspire them to do their best. Ultimately, leaders need their employees more than employees need their leaders. Over time leadership gets the employees they deserve.

What thinks you?