What’s hate got to do with? Everything if you want to stay in business (review of Nicholas Webb’s What Customers Hate)

What’s not to love about your business?

If you don’t already know, you’re in for a shock. And you’re flirting with disaster.

 “Haters hold the secret to your success – or lack thereof,” says Nicholas Webb, a customer service expert and author of What Customers Hate. “Being loved by your customers should be your goal, and every business must be focused on providing value and a superior customer experience. But the recognition of the flip side of the coin—the fact that consumers hate many businesses—should alert you to the very important fact that reducing what your customers hate is just as important as increasing what they love.”

Here’s why you need to reduce the hate. Most of your customers stick with you not because they love you the most but because they hate you the least. Of the millions of people who shop at Amazon and Walmart, could you fill a minivan with all the customers who are truly, deeply and madly in love with either retailer?

For your customers, you’re currently their best possible option. You’re in serious trouble if a competitor shows up promising fewer headaches and hassles.

This is why you need to ask your customers straight up what they hate about you.

If you don’t ask, they’ll tell you indirectly through one-star reviews posted online for the whole world to see. It won’t matter if you have dozens of glowing reviews from happy and satisfied customers. Everyone reads one-star reviews to find out what’s the worst thing that could happen by doing business with you.

 “When compared to customers who love you, haters are far more likely to share with friends and social media the fact that they hate you,” says Webb. “A few bad reviews can knock you out of the competitive arena, costing your organization dearly.”

Think of the hater’s feedback as a gift, even if it hurts. Dissatisfied and disappointed customers will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong and, as an added bonus, tell you how to make it right. “Haters are inventors who offer up specific suggestions regarding what companies can do to stop the hate.”

Best of all, you can win haters over by talking with them and taking action. “Haters who are converted to lovers are some of the best promoters for an organization or brand,” says Webb.

Webb’s created a Net Customer Experience tool along with a RealRating survey. It’s a way to track and tally what customers both love and hate from the start to finish of their customer journey with you.

That journey usually begins with a website that too often gives prospective customers a reason to hate you right from the start. “The overwhelming majority of organizations essentially suspend a brochure on the internet that they call a website,” says Webb. “Your website should be structured in such a way that it is delivering real and meaningful value to your site visitor. If you look at websites that deliver the best experiences for their customers, they are dispensing free e-books, white papers, value-based videos and free offers that are of conspicuous value.”

So don’t use your website to humble brag. Make it all about your customers. Show them some love. And make it quick and easy for them to get what they need.

Webb has practical advice for taking the hate out of the rest of your customers’ journey. He even identifies the first step every business or organization should take starting today.

“The most important action you can take right now is to repeat this mantra out loud,” says Webb. “Our customers judge our company, brand or service not only on what they love about it but what they hate about it. We pledge to recognize this reality, and henceforth strive to both increase what they love and identify and decrease what they hate. This is the future of our organization.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Lost a step at work? Prepare to jump (review of Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks)

Brace yourself Gen Xers.

Our careers are about to peak, if they haven’t already. What follows once we’re past our prime is a swift and steep drop.

“When it comes to the enviable skills that you worked so hard to attain and that made you successful in your field, you can expect significant decline to come as soon as your thirties, or as late as your early fifties,” says Arthur C. Brooks, author of From Strength to Strength. “That’s the deal, and it’s not fun. Sorry.”

Brooks says we have three options. One’s bad, one’s sad and one’s our ticket to a new kind of success, greater happiness and a deeper purpose in life’s second half.

We can deny reality and rage against the inevitable.   This means working harder and faster, tempting fate with our health and hoping no one notices that we’ve lost a step.

This traps us in a vicious cycle where we’re “terrified of decline, dissatisfied with victories that come less and less frequently, hooked on the successes that are increasingly of the past, and isolated from others.”

Our second option is to give up and make peace with our slide into irrelevance. For a preview of where this leads, take four minutes and 20 seconds and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days.

Or we can work up the courage to jump to what Brook calls the second curve where there’s a new strength waiting for us.

“If you choose door number three, congratulations,” says Brooks. “There’s a bright future ahead. But it requires a bunch of new skills and new way of thinking.”

In our younger years, it was fluid intelligence that fueled our career. It’s this intelligence that let us come up with new ideas, solve hard problems, learn quickly and focus hard.

As that intelligence fades, crystallized intelligence takes over and draws on our lifetime of knowledge and experiences.

“When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom,” says Brooks. “When you are young, you can generate lots of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.”

So why are we so reluctant to jump? Brooks blames our addiction to success and our need to feel special. We’re not ready to give up the money, power, prestige and adulation.

“The symbols of your specialness have encrusted you like a ton of barnacles. Not only are these things incapable of bringing you any real satisfaction; they’re making you feel too heavy to jump to your next curve. You need to chip a bunch away.”

The trick is to redefine satisfaction. On life’s first curve, we believe that satisfaction equals continually getting what we want, success equals continually having more than others and failure equals having less.

There’s a different equation on the second curve. Satisfaction equals what we have divided by what we want. The key is to want less of what doesn’t matter.  Brooks recommends loving people rather than things. “To misplace your love is to invite frustration and futility – to get on the hedonistic treadmill and set it to ultra-fast.”

If you’ve hit the peak of your career, it’s time to gracefully step off that treadmill and put your crystallized intelligence to work on life’s second curve.   

 “No matter how you find your passion, early on, pursue it with a white-hot flame, dedicating it to the good of the world,” says Brooks. “But hold your success lightly – be ready to change as your abilities change. Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Pay attention to what’s stealing your focus (review of Stolen Focus by Johann Hari)

Would you pay to use Tik Tok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or LinkedIn?

While these social media platforms are currently free, we’re paying a steep price.

These platforms are pouring acid on our attention, warns journalist Johann Hari. He interviewed more than 250 experts on focus and attention while writing his book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again. Hari says social media platforms harm us in six ways.

These platforms have conditioned our minds to crave constant rewards above all else. It’s all that many of us seem to focus on. “They make us hunger for hearts and likes,” says Hari.

These platforms push us to continually switch tasks. We stop whatever we’re doing at work, school and home to check in dozens, even hundreds, of times a day. “The evidence shows this is as bad for the quality of your thinking as getting drunk or stoned,” says Hari.

We’re being fracked. “These sites get to know what makes you tick, in very specific ways – they learn what you like to look at, what excites you, what angers you, what enrages you. They learn your personal triggers – what, specifically, will distract you.”

Enragement equals engagement so the algorithms that run these sites amp up the crazy and intentionally make us angry. “Scientists have been proving in experiments for years that anger itself screws with your ability to pay attention,” says Hari.

We start believing that we’re surrounded by equally angry people. “These sites make you feel that you are in an environment full of anger and hostility, so you become more vigilant – a situation where more of your attention shifts to searching for dangers and less and less is available for slower forms of focus like reading a book or playing with your kids.”

And most concerning of all, Hari says these sites have set the world on fire. “There is evidence that these sites are now severely harming our ability to come together as a society to identify our problems and to find solutions.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found that fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than real news. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, falsehoods on Facebook outperformed all of the top stories at 19 mainstream news sites combined. This explains why once rational family and friends believe conspiracy theories, deny science, distrust institutions, cheer on trucker convoys, refuse vaccinations and pledge allegiance to autocrats here at home and around the world.

So what’s the solution? Ban surveillance capitalism and these social media platforms will switch overnight to subscription-based business models. Yes, we’d have to pay to use these platforms but we’d stop being the product that’s constantly distracted, packaged and sold to advertisers.

“Suddenly, Facebook would no longer be working for advertisers and offering up your secret wishes and preferences as their real product,” says Hari. “It would be working for you. Its job, for the first time, would be to actually figure out what makes you happy and give it to you. So if, like most people, you want to be able to focus, the site would have to be redesigned to facilitate that.” Notifications could be batched and served up once a day. Infinite scrolling could be dropped while features that connect you offline with nearby friends could be added.

Expect Silicon Valley to put up a fight. Instead of changing business models, we’ll be told to change our individual behavior by showing some self-restraint. Hari says offering upbeat, simplistic and individual solutions to big problems with deep causes in our culture constitutes cruel optimism. “It is cruel because the solution you are offering is so limited, and so blind to the deeper causes, that for most people, it will fail.” And when that solution fails, we’ll believe it’s our fault and won’t hold social media companies accountable.

Hari is calling for an attention rebellion because a distracted life is a diminished life. It’s time we start paying attention to what’s stealing our focus.

This review first ran in the March 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

Quit annoying coworkers with your emails (review of 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails by Anne Janzer)

Here’s a Netflix docuseries I’d binge watch in a weekend.

Have ordinary people stand in front of a packed theatre and read their most cringe-worthy work emails.

There’d be the “my boss is a complete idiot” emails accidentally sent to bosses. The soul-baring private messages inadvertently forwarded to all-staff distribution lists. The late-night 3,000-word rally cries and manifestos to fix all that’s wrong at work. The self-aggrandizing and ingratiating emails sent to higher-ups. The all-cap emails fired off in righteous fury over a perceived slight. The snarky and tongue-in-cheek emails that were cruel, unkind and broke friendships. And the emails with jokes, memes and videos that were never in any way suitable for work.

Now, you’re smart enough to never send any of these emails or you at least know better than to read them before a live studio audience. But all of us are likely sending emails that are taxing the cognitive load of our bosses and colleagues.

Anne Janzer has practical tips for cleaning up our email hygiene in her book 33 Ways Not to Screw Up Your Business Emails.

“An email may seem impermanent, fleeting and private,” says Janzer. “But it long outlasts the attention you pay to it, and could haunt you later. Check what you’re saying before you send messages to other people’s mailboxes and corporate email servers. Once you send an email, you lose control over what others do with your words.”

Here are five simple tips to fix your emails

Take the coffee test.  You’ve written an email that you need everyone to read. Don’t hit send just yet. Instead, email yourself a draft. Then go stand in line for a coffee or wander into the kitchen and pop a pod into your Keurig. Take out your phone and read your draft email. Can you finish reading it  before your coffee’s served or brewed? If not, rewrite your email and try again.

Now apply the GPS test to make sure there’ll be no confusion. “To test for tone and clarity, read it aloud in a monotone voice,” says Janzer. “Think of the automated navigation voice on a GPS system. Does your email make sense when stripped of all vocal inflection.? If you find yourself wanting to emphasize words to clarify what you mean, you may be misleading the reader.”

Stay in the Goldilocks zone. We all know to never email anyone a wall of words. But emails that are too short can be just as problematic. Aim for emails that are just right in terms of length, context and detail.

Always lead with a personalized greeting. “We are wired to pay attention to our names,” says Janzer, who ran a survey about salutations on LinkedIn. More than half of respondents chose “Hi name”, with 20 per cent opting for “Hello name” and 12 per cent preferring “Dear name”.

And start putting the purpose of your email in the subject line. Are you emailing something for review, discussion or approval? Are you sharing, or asking for, information?  Have your team agree on abbreviations like FR, FA, FD and FYI.  What you put in the subject line decides the fate of your email. Is it opened and read right away or is it left unread and quickly forgotten?

I could’ve used this book at the start of my career. Email rules at work tend to be unwritten and learned through trial and error. So why not have your team read Janzer’s book as a team-building and bonding exercise? And then bring everyone together to hammer out some email ground rules. If you need an icebreaker, invite a few brave souls to revisit their worst ever work emails. I have a few I could send you that’ll make you cringe.

Jay Robb is the communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Beware of billionaires offering to save the world (review of Peter Goodman’s Davos Man)

Alexa, how much did Jeff Bezos spend on his 10-minute rocket ride to the edge of space?

Bezos has reportedly spent $5.5 billion on his space company.

Here’s what the Amazon founder could’ve done with that money here on Earth.

He could’ve saved 38 million people from starvation, according to World Food Program estimates.  Vaccinated two billion people in developing countries against COVID-19. Given paid sick leave to Amazon employees who contracted COVID while working in his warehouses.  And he could have cut, rather than hiked, the price of masks sold by Amazon during the pandemic.

Bezos is not only the world’s richest man – he’s also a Davos Man. Political scientist Samuel Huntington coined the term in 2004 for the globe-trotting billionaires who fly into the Alpine resort town every year for the World Economic Forum.

New York Times global economics correspondent Peter S. Goodman has covered the forum for years and watched Davos Man in action.

“He is a rare and remarkable creature – a predator who attacks without restraint, perpetually intent on expanding his territory and seizing the nourishment of others, while protecting himself from reprisal by posing as a symbiotic friend to all,” says Goodman in his book Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World.

“He pretends that his interests are the same as everyone else’s. He seeks gratitude for his exploits, validation as the product of a just system in which he is a guardian of the public interest, even as he devours all the sources of sustenance. He argues that his own prosperity is a precondition for broader progress, the key to vibrancy and innovation.”

What does Davos Man want in return for gracing us with his presence and saving our world? Tax cuts. Deregulation. No unions. Minimum wages instead of living wages. Austerity measures that force bankrupt governments to privatize public services. No handouts for anyone during tough times until billionaires get their taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts because stocks need to bought back, dividends need to be paid out and executive compensation packages need bumping up.

So how’s that deal working out? Goodman reports that over the past 40 years, the wealthiest one per cent of Americans saw their fortunes soar $21 trillion while households in the bottom half saw their wealth shrink by $900 million. Since 1978, total compensation for corporate executives has increased more than 900 per cent, while wages for typical American workers have risen just under 12 per cent. Worldwide, the 10 richest people are worth more than the combined economies of the 85 poorest countries.

In 2020, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9 trillion while their philanthropic contributions hit a 10-year low. At the same time, upwards of 500 million people fell into poverty during the global pandemic.  “If the agony of 2020 had demonstrated anything it was how the rich could not only prosper but profiteer off everyone else’s suffering,” says Goodman.

Extreme inequality is leading us to a bad place. We’re scared and struggling. Out of desperation, we turn to real or pretend populists who pocket campaign contributions from Davos Man, slash their taxes, dismantle safety nets, fuel conspiracy theories and deflect our anger onto immigrants (build walls!) and governments (drain swamps and fire up the freedom convoys!).

“Strife and inequality will create more opportunities for political movements that employ scarcity as a springboard to hate, stoking fear of ethnic and religious minorities as an electoral strategy.”

So what’s the solution? Goodman recommends a universal basic income that provides economic security for regular people along with a wealth tax for billionaires and the break-up of their monopolies.

It won’t be easy. Bank on billionaires threatening to take their ball and go to one of their dozen homes, yachts or islands. This may also help explain why they’re suddenly keen to fly off into space and dream about living on Mars.

“Reducing economic inequality is not terribly complicated,” says Goodman. “It’s just exceedingly difficult as a political objective. The government needs to reapportion wealth so that ordinary people gain a meaningful stake in society. But those who possess wealth have mastered how to use it to manipulate democracy, preventing a fair distribution.”

While that redistribution will be difficult, it’s essential and ultimately doable.

“Democracy has been warped by the billionaire class, its workings tilted toward private islands, offshore bank accounts and secret meetings in Davos convened to plot the next insider deal.

“Reclaiming power from Davos Man requires no insurrection or revolution of ideas. It demands the thoughtful use of a tool that has been there all along: democracy.”

Although a convoy that grounds the Gulfstream private jets at the next World Economic Forum may be worth considering.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The investor revolution will be memed (review of Ben Mezrich’s The Antisocial Network)

Don’t mess with nostalgic Millennials who have money to spend and a score to settle.

Gabe Plotkin made that mistake and it cost him billions of dollars. Plotkin’s hedge fund had shorted GameStop, banking on the struggling bricks and mortar mall retailer going the way of Blockbuster.

But Millennials had spent their formative years buying new and used videogames at GameStop. Now they were stuck at home with their COVID stimulus cheques playing a new game with the Robinhood stock trading app on their smartphones while getting investment advice from the meme-filled WallStreetBets group on Reddit.

Millennials also remembered how Wall Street got bailed out while their parents and the rest of Main Street were hammered and abandoned during the 2008 financial crisis.

So these ragtag retail investors banded together to save GameStop, take down one of Wall Street’s biggest hedge funds and put Wall Street on notice. Shares that once traded below $5 in mid-2020 and under $20 in December 2020 had shot up to $347.51 in late January 2021, putting the squeeze on short sellers who’d expected the stock to tank. Plotkin’s hedge fund suffered a 53 per cent loss that month.

Ben Mezrich called what happened with Gamestop GME the first shot in a revolution that threatens to upend the financial establishment.

“The battle that drove up the price of a single share of GameStop to a premarket high of $500 had origins that dated back to Occupy Wall Street and beyond, when anger toward big banks and the havoc wreaked in the last economic meltdown bubbled up into largely impotent protests and sit-ins,” Mezrich writes in his latest book The Antisocial Network.

“At the same time, the rise of GME could also be seen as the culmination of a populist movement that began with the intersection of social media and the growth of simplified, democratizing, financial portals – tech that weakened the old-world pillars propping up the financial establishment.”

Mezrich chronicles the revolution by reporting on a 34-year-old who calls himself Roaring Kitty, livestreams trading strategies for hours on end from his basement and became an overnight multimillionaire thanks to his shares in GameStop. Other shareholders who went along for the ride include a 22-year-old college student, a nurse and a mom-to-be working at a hair salon.

Elon Musk also makes an appearance in Mezrich’s book. Like the retail traders rallying to save GameStop, Musk had a score to settle with short sellers who’d taken aim at Tesla. “Like his ideological siblings on the WallStreetBets board, Elon had taken the battle personally and hadn’t merely been angry at the short sellers, but apparently had been disgusted by the Wall Street practice of betting on the failure of others.” Musk’s single “Gamestonk!!” tweet to his 42 million followers drove GameStock’s share price even higher.

The short squeeze ended when Robinhood halted buying because it couldn’t put up $3.7 billion to cover capital requirements for the volume of trades going through their brokerage account.

GameStop has since brought in new leadership and announced plans to become a technology company, with a marketplace for non-fungible tokens. 

“Does it really matter what GameStop management does?” writes Mezrich. “Will the company’s fundamentals – any company’s fundamentals – have any bearing on its stock price in the world we are moving toward, where a group of amateurs on social media can move markets? Where a well-constructed tweet, or a particularly humorous meme, or an inspiring YOLO post can shift billions of dollars into a company’s valuation?”.

Two of Mezrich’s previous bestselling books – The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House – were made into movies. Bank on an AntiSocial Network also being adapted for the big or small screen. It’s a business story that proves truth is stranger than fiction.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator.  

Review: It’s not just where we’ll work. It’s also how & how much (review of Out of Office)

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That’s great advice to give if you’re a divorce lawyer or cardiologist looking for future clients and patients.

But it’s lousy advice for the rest of us, according to the authors of Out of Office.

“A lot of us find something that we’re good at and like and then try to make a career out of it in some way,” say journalists Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen. “Those who’ve followed this pernicious advice to ‘do what you love’ know this endgame: it’s a burnout trap, and a fantastic way to evacuate all pleasure and passion from an activity. Do what you love and you’ll work every day for the rest of your life.”

Here’s an alternative. Take what you love and make it your hobby.

“The restoration we find in hobbies can make us better partners, better friends, better listeners and collaborators, just overall better people to be around,” says Warzel and Petersen. “Hobbies help us cultivate essential parts of us that have been suffocated by productivity obsessions and proliferating obligations. The hobby in itself ultimately matters far less than what its existence provides: a means of tilting your identity away from a person who is good at doing a lot of work.”

Warzel and Petersen have a few hobby ground rules.

No turning your hobby into a money-making side hustle. Your hobby is not a productivity hack or a professional development opportunity. Don’t perform your hobby on social media in a bid to win likes and shares. And if you’re a mom or dad, don’t make your hobby a family affair.

“Sublimating your desire for activities that don’t involve your children does not make you a more impressive parent; it just makes you a more exhausted and resentful one.”

Not sure what to do for a hobby that isn’t tied to making money, advancing your career or building your personal brand?  “Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay,” say Warzel and Petersen “Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever way, yours. What did you actually like to do?”

Petersen and Warzel prescribe hobbies as one way to course correct after a pandemic that’s thrown work-life balance out of whack for many of us.

While we’ve spent a lot of time mulling over where we’ll work post-pandemic, how we’ll work is the bigger question.

Warzel and Petersen say we need to “think through how we can liberate ourselves from the most toxic, alienating, and frustrating aspects of office work. Not just by shifting the location where the work is completed, but also by rethinking the work we do and the time we allot to it.

“Reconceptualization means having honest conversations about how much people are working and how they think they could work better. Not longer. It means acknowledging that better work is, in fact, oftentimes, less work over fewer hours which makes people happier, more creative, more invested in the work they do and the people they do it for.”

Petersen and Warzel admit there’s no easy endgame. You won’t find checklists or six easy steps in their book.

“The process is difficult and, if we’re being honest, never ending. But we are at a societal inflection point. Parts of our lives that were one quietly annoying have become intolerable; social institutions that have long felt broken are now actively breaking us. So many things we’ve accepted as norms have the potential to change.”

So as we figure out where we’ll work when the pandemic ends, it’s also worth having a hard and overdue conversation about how we’ll work and how we can free up more time family, friends, community and our hobbies.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Three ways to save & support your favourite local restaurants

Want to help your favourite local and independent restaurants recover from the extinction-level event that’s been COVID-19? 

Freelance food writer and former cook Corey Mintz has three suggestions. 

Delete delivery apps from your phone, pass on It Spots and change your attitude when you walk through the door. 

Mintz is not a fan of third party delivery apps. “In my opinion, they are a predatory enterprise that has figured out how to use technology to get between restaurants and their customers and then sell the customers back for a cut of the action. From my perspective, that’s a scam.” 

The tech companies behind these apps charge commissions of up to 30 per cent from restaurants with razor thin profit margins. To make matters worse, chain restaurants and fast food outlets are being charged lower, or even no, commissions. So your family-owned independent restaurant is subsidizing delivery service for Taco Bell and McDonald’s, says Mintz is his book The Next Supper: The End of Restaurants as We Knew Them and What Comes After

Along with deleting delivery apps, don’t follow the crowds to the latest It Spot restaurant that’s all over social media thanks to a well-financed, media-savvy hype machine. Don’t be fooled by social media influencers who’ve been comped a dinner in exchange for raving about the restaurant. “At any given time, there’s an It Spot restaurant in your town. The status of the It Spot – impossible to get a reservation because everyone wants to eat there right now – never lasts. The crowd always grazes toward another spot, newer and more ‘it’ every six months.” 

Skip the over-priced “Insta-bait” meals that photograph nicely but taste awful and instead spend your money with the restaurant owners who’ve served you well over the years. “When your friends ask you to check out the new It Spot, remind them of a restaurant where you all shared a wonderful, memorable evening.” Says Mintz. “Remember that dinner and how good a time you had. They deserve your patronage. They’ve worked for it. Not only can I guarantee you’ll have a better time at a good restaurant, rather than a new restaurant, you know it too.” 

If you’re looking for a new restaurant to add to your list of favourites, venture out to the strip malls of suburbia and on the edges of town. That’s where you’ll find immigrant-run family restaurants that can afford the cheaper rents and serve up meals you won’t find anywhere else. “The latest downtown restaurant, with its million-dollar renovation and dynastically certified chef, seem so pale, pompous and unimportant by comparison.” 

And finally, fix your attitude when you return to your favourite restaurant. “The most important action we can take to contribute to a more equitable restaurant industry is to let go of the idea that the customer is always right,” says Mintz. “That attitude, philosophy and prevailing power dynamic is one thing about hospitality that we not only must change, it is shockingly within our power as diners to do so. Asking and expecting working people, who are doing so much, to do one more thing is not a right to which we are entitled.” 

Mintz says the pandemic has been an extinction-level event for restaurants. He predicts we’ll be left with fewer and smaller restaurants that employ fewer people. He hopes the era of chef-driven restaurants is over and we start paying more attention to how staff are treated and who’s supplying the food that’s served on our plates. Mintz also makes a strong case for eliminating tipping and instead charging higher prices that let staff earn a living wage. 

“COVID-19 has been a nightmare for restaurants. The businesses that survive, and those that sprout in the soil after this calamity, must be better than what came before. I think there is a better future for restaurants. And we can be part of making it happen.” 

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

Don’t panic – your biggest mistake could take you somewhere great (review of Terry O’Reilly’s My Best Mistake)

Gilbert and Clarke Swanson had a 236-tonne problem.

That’s how much unsold turkey the brothers were stuck with after the Thanksgiving of 1953. Their company didn’t have enough freezers so they stockpiled the birds in 10 refrigerated boxcars. To keep the compressors running, the gobbler express had to run back and forth across the United States.

While the frozen birds rode the rails, a Swanson salesman was flying Pan American Airways. His dinner was served on an aluminum tray with three compartments. He sent the tray to Swanson HQ and suggested selling the leftover turkey as frozen dinners with sides of potatoes and peas.

TV DINNER, 1954. Packaging for Swanson’s turkey TV dinner, 1954, designed to resemble a television set.

Swanson wasn’t the first company to sell frozen dinners. But they were the first to trademark TV Dinner and package the meals in boxes that looked like a wood-paneled television set.

Americans bought more than 33 million televisions in 1954. As they sat in front of their new TVs, they ate millions of Swanson TV Dinners. The company later added fried chicken, Salisbury steak, meatloaf and desserts and made a fortune. One of Swanson’s original trays is on display in the National Museum of American History.

What could’ve been a catastrophic mistake became a golden goose for Swanson and a cultural icon, says Terry O’Reilly, radio host, podcaster and author of My Best Mistake.

O’Reilly says there’s also a lesson to be learned for anyone who’s screwed up on an epic scale and fears it’ll cost them their job, business and reputation.

“If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s to embrace the obstacle. The answer to life’s most vexing moments is always sitting at the heart of the mistake, waiting patiently to be discovered.

“When you peel the problem like a banana, an opportunity slowly comes into focus. That opportunity may feel, in the moment, like a desperate gamble or a Hail Mary pass, but it’s often much more meaningful than that.”

Steven Spielberg threw a Hail Mary pass in 1974. Spielberg was at Martha’s Vineyard shooting Jaws. His first big movie was shaping up to be his last. He’d spent a fortune on three animatronic sharks that didn’t work in salt water. Spielberg didn’t have the time or money to build a better shark. So he rewrote the script for Jaws on the fly. 

No shark? No problem. We don’t see the shark until three quarters of the way into the movie and it’s on screen for a grand total of just four minutes.

Jaws became the first movie to make more than $100 million. It won three Academy Awards. John Williams’ score is ranked the sixth greatest by the American Film Institute. Jaws ushered in the summer blockbuster and launched Spielberg’s career.

“Obstacles often generate astonishing waves of creativity,” says O’Reilly. “Spielberg, faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, sat in his hotel room one night and asked himself, how would (Alfred) Hitchcock handle the situation? Then it came to him: what we can’t see is the most frightening thing of all.”

So whatever’s gone wrong, don’t hit the panic button just yet. Remember the Swanson brothers’ turkey train and Spielberg’s defective sharks. O’Reilly’s book includes 22 other inspirational stories of big screw-ups that turned into even bigger wins. If you can’t wait to for return of Ted Lasso on Apple TV, this book about believing in silver linings will hold you over.  

“When an epic mistake feels like it might be career-ending or debilitating or humiliating, when you feel like you may have lost your credibility, your livelihood or even your sanity, it might be destiny preparing you for what you’ve asked for all along,” says O’Reilly. “Just remember to ask one question – what is the hidden gift?”

The final word goes to Winston Churchill. “You never can tell whether bad luck may not after all turn out to be good luck…when you make some great mistake, it may very easily serve you better than the best-advised decision.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to find your ideal customers (review of The Ultimate Marketing Engine by John Jantsch)

I learned two things while staying at Killarney Lodge in Algonquin Park.

I’m not at my best when paddling a canoe across a lake into a stiff wind or slight breeze.

And it shows when you know who’s your ideal guest, customer or client.

Killarney Lodge has done their homework. They know their ideal guest doesn’t need to be entertained. So there are no bingo and movie nights. No shuffleboard and volleyball tournaments. No pre-dinner wine and cheese receptions and after-dinner cover bands butchering the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift in the banquet and party hall. In fact, there’s no banquet and party hall. Just like there are no flat screen TVs in any cabin.

Instead, the resort caters to guests who want a nature fix, screen-free solitude, an uninterrupted sleep and the luxury of a spotless waterfront cabin with a million dollar view, a comfortable bed and a private dock with a canoe plus friendly staff, home-cooked meals and the world’s best butter tarts and pies.  

Killarney Lodge does what John Jantsch preaches in his book The Ultimate Marketing Engine.

“It doesn’t matter that you think everyone needs what you have to sell,” says Jantsch, a marketing consultant and founder of Duck Tape Marketing. “Ideal customers have the right set of problems, the right circumstances, the right characteristics, the right motivation, the right beliefs, the right behavior and the right amount of money.

“The key is to recognize the value that you, your products and your services bring; to appreciate what an ideal client looks like; and then to understand and promise to solve that ideal customer’s greatest problem. Creating a marketing engine means helping your customers go from where they are now to where they want to arrive, to experience the transformation they seek, and to get the best result possible.”

Jantsch says there are five keys to growing your business.

Map where your best customers are today and where they want to go. Understand the key milestones on that journey.

Uncover the real problem you solve for your ideal customers. What’s the transformation they’re seeking? “People don’t buy products or services just because they want them. They buy them because they believe they will solve a problem.”

Narrow your focus to the top 20 per cent of your ideal customers. “There are plenty of customers to go around; you don’t need them all.” Your top 20 per cent want to do more business with you, says Jantsch. “A subset of this group wants to spend 10 times more than they currently do. You need to figure out who they are and offer them the opportunity.”

Attract more ideal customers with the narrative they’re already telling themselves. You’ve done your homework so you know this story, the journey they’re on and the milestones along the way.

And then grow with your customers. “This is the key to long-term, sustainable growth because expansion comes organically rather than through the discovery of some new sales tactic or marketing channel.”

Jantsch’s latest book should be required reading for every small business owner. Not everyone’s made it through the pandemic. But many small businesses, restaurants and resorts have survived and even thrived. The pandemic’s exposed a fundamental and often unforgotten business truth, says Jantsch.

“In good times, growth often comes from being in the right place at the right time; in tough times, growth comes from being important in some meaningful way in the lives of your customers.”

Jantsch shows how to be important in a meaningful way for your most important customers, clients or guests. Sometimes that way involves delivering a nature fix, solitude, a canoe, a million dollar view and the world’s best butter tarts and pies.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.