Tag Archives: Zappos

Culture? I Got Your Culture Right Here

Here’s a question for you; as an artist, entertainer or freelancer, what does corporate culture have to do with you? You’re not a CEO with hundreds of people working under you, so why would you have to think about it? We all have to think about it.  If we don’t, no one will work with us.  Or at the least, if you’re hyper talented, but impossible, people will work with you begrudgingly.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different cultures throughout my working career.  At my first production staff job I was told early on “Our credo is: assume everyone is dumber than you.”  Brilliant!  Grammatically incoherent, promotes arrogance while belittling you all at the same time.  Teamwork wasn’t our thing. It was every idiot for themselves.

My first job at a talent agency was different. I was told by the guy who hired me: “The object of the game here is to devour the top. I won’t be satisfied until you make me obsolete and I’m on the sidewalk looking for a job.”  I don’t think he realized that it would only be three months before he actually was on the sidewalk looking for a job.  I can’t take credit for it.  There was a sudden palace coup that dispatched of him quickly and finally.  Brutal.  It taught me to keep my head down, work hard and never let my bookings or revenue slip.

Looks like the right gear for storming an agent's office.

See, rather quickly it became obvious to me that big talent agency culture was simple: you can have dead bodies piling up in the corner of your office and as long as your bookings are strong, all management will do is send out for air freshener. However, let your bookings slip and they’ll call out for a SWAT team.

So, what is corporate culture?  In essence, it’s the spirit in which groups of people work together.  But, it’s up to each member of the group to individually contribute.  For example:  Good culture would be a movie set where the various departments communicate well towards the common goal.  Great culture would be that the team and individual attitude is ‘serving’ the other departments and the common goal.

Culture tends to be established from the top down, as in the two examples I gave you previously from my own experience.  My favorite movie example of this is in “Tropic Thunder” when Tom Cruise‘s studio head Les Grossman commands the Key Grip to punch the director in the face via Satellite link.  In the real world of movie making there are also examples of establishing culture good and bad.

Jack Nicholson is known for starting up an on set poker game with the cast and crew at the beginning of each movie he does. Invariably, when making movies there’s a lot of waiting around while different departments get ready for a scene. Jack doesn’t hide in his trailer, he spends the time with who’s ever available, building commraderie and passing the time having some fun with those around him.  He’s the boss and he knows it, so he sets a fun relaxed tone with the built in message that waiting is OK.

There’s another actor in Hollywood that arrives for each work day by helicopter. When the crew hears that chopper overhead, they have 20 minutes to be ready to roll camera.  If they’re not, the actor gets back in ther chopper and flies away. Now, there may be good reasons for the actor having to work this way, to each his own. But, the net effect is that the rest of the crew becomes paranoid, anxious and has flashbacks when seeing traffic copters or the opening titles of M*A*S*H.

The individual in the group dynamic is important!  Though it starts from the top down, any team member has the power to make the culture positive or to undermine it.  To make that point, imagine a big lighting setup.  While you are shooting away, someone randomly keeps pulling out plugs. As soon as you get it plugged back in and are rolling again, another one gets pulled on the other side. That is the power of the individual!

So think about it.  What is your individual contribution to the corporate culture of your crew, team or group?  Is it positive or negative? Is it about serving the group or your personal aspirations?

This is a fluid subject. I’m not the poster boy for creating good corporate culture. I think we teach what we most need to learn.  But, I’ve become aware that not only does culture count, if you want to keep your sanity and you want to love going to work everyday it’s essential.

So, how do you change a culture, in an office? On a set? If you’re the boss or department head take a good look at the tone you are setting.  Is it collaborative? Can people ask questions and feel heard in their concerns without feeling their jobs are threatened? Remember, the space shuttle Challenger accident?  The official investigation revealed that the engineers brought up concerns repeatedly. Their concerns were so aggressively rebuffed that they stopped bringing them up out of fear of losing their jobs.

After you’ve done some introspection, write down your personal philosophy of a good working environment and make sure those around you are aware of your feelings.  Then walk your talk and implement your point of view.

If you’re not the boss, it’s all about one thing: ATTITUDE! What attitude are you bringing to the team?  Is it positive? Negative? Self preserving? Secretive? Collaborative? Again introspection is in order. Ask yourself some hard questions. There’s always something to work on.

In the end, attitude always wins out, positive OR negative. But, only you can choose.  The beauty is that you can change the culture around you top down or bottom up. The choice is yours.

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Customer Service

When I was 12, I had a paper route.  I worked for the Hartford Courant, a morning paper.  I was pretty good at getting up early and delivering the papers. But getting paid for my work was another matter.  In those days, the paperboy would have to go every week and get paid from the customers individually for the week of papers on Friday night. Then on Saturday morning, I’d have to go to the paper’s offices and pay the wholesale price for the newspapers I had delivered during the week.

So Friday evenings were an important time for paperboys to work.  But, it was also an important time for 12 year old boys to go to the local skating rink to hang out with their friends and pretend girls were remotely interested in them.  So, invariably I would go and collect just enough money to pay my newspaper bill and get into the skating rink, thinking I would make it back sometime on Saturday to get the rest. Never quite worked out that way and created some customer service issues for me.

In one instance, there was a Mrs. Gaudette who was on a strict weekly budget and insisted I come every Friday night.  After a few times of missing a collection and the ensuing reprimands, then missing a few more times, I just stopped going back out of fear.  I kept delivering papers for 2 years and just didn’t get paid for that house.  What can I say? I was twelve and she was mean, but she was the customer and she made her expectations known.

On the other side of the coin, there was Mrs. Buckley on the next street.  It was 1971, she was alone and her son had been killed in Vietnam early in the war.  She would invite me in while she got her $1.10 together and then talk to me for an hour about her son.  Brutal, but I was polite and I felt so sorry for her.

When we think of customer service, it seems we think of some person on the phone sitting in the midwest or India or my favorite “Peggy” in the Capital 1 commercials.  Basically they exist to listen to our complaints and offer some kind of mediocre or inadequate fix to our problem (whatever it is.)  So really, we think of the worst job in creation.  A never ending array of complaints and demands and anger.

In reality, customer service is one of the most simple concepts in business and at the same time the most complex. Especially for Artists, who are just more interested in the creative elements of the business.  There are Mrs. Gaudettes who intimidate and then are happy to get stuff for free because of it (no, I’m not bitter) and Mrs. Buckley’s who are needy and take a great deal of time.

But, customer service needn’t be the extremes and can be broken down.  First of all, customer service implies or assumes that you already have a customer.  Once someone is a customer, only then can you worry about customer service.  Before that it’s called marketing.

Once you have a customer, the whole drill can be boiled down to one concept: REPEAT BUSINESS.  For all the fancy business rhetoric, charts, facts, figures, personal development and techniques, this is the only real measurement.  How much repeat business are you getting?  If you have consistent repeat business, you are doing something right.  If you don’t have enough, you are doing something wrong in your working process.

Customers do not forget a great experience and they do not forget a bad experience. But, they do forget an average experience or even an above average experience. So, what’s the fix? Give them a great experience, first time, every time.

What is that supposed to mean? It means giving great care to the entire process. In the book ‘Purple Cow,’ author Seth Godin puts it simply: “be remarkable.” The premiss of the book is that if you’re driving through the countryside and you see some cows grazing, you notice them and may think they’re cool.  But, as you keep driving and you keep seeing different versions of brown cows, eventually they just blend into the background. However, if you see a purple cow, now that’s something you’ll remember for a long time. Because, lets face it, a purple cow is remarkable.

Customer service is a lot of things, but mostly it’s going way way beyond what is expected. Way way beyond starts with listening to the customer about their goals, but listening even harder to their concerns and expectations. Nothing can be beneath you to address, no matter how ridiculous and no lengths are too far.

In Tony Hsieh‘s book  about the culture of Zappos.com “Delivering Happiness,” the CEO recounts the story of how he once goaded a client into calling the the Zappos customer service line in the middle of the night to ask “can you tell me where I can order a pizza in Santa Monica and get it delivered at 1am? Remember, Zappos is an online shoe store.  They put him on hold, found the information and gave it to him. That’s customer service!!

It’s preparation, it’s execution, it’s follow up. But, it’s not THAT you do these things consistently, it’s about HOW you do these things. Do you do some of these things begrudgingly? DO you become stressed and yell at subordinates in the heat of battle?  Are you onto the next project after and do minimal follow up?  It’s all seen and it all counts.

A few years ago I heard a great and challenging quote by the speaker and author T.Harv Ecker.  It goes: “how you do anything is how you do everything.”  I think that deep in each of our minds we are programmed to reason: “once I see someone do something, that’s how they do it every time.” That simple concept has kept me from all sorts of laziness, half measures and half cocked stress related mistakes.

So how do you do things?  Are you inconsistent in your marketing?  Do you shy away from the business end of being professionally creative? Is repeat business alluding you?  You have to ask yourself the tough questions to begin to move forward.

After all, with no customers, there’s no point in thinking about service and with no service there are no customers.  It’s a tricky ‘Catch 22.’ What are you going to do about it?