Creative Ventures Newsletter
Volume 85, March 2013

Wow, February has been in the standard hectic mode, though at the end of the month I took some time to get the new office up and running, except for a few remaining details.  I know I often sound like a broken record, but the projects I have the honor of being involved with are so very interesting, challenging, and fun.  I believe that is the “work trifecta!”

  • I seem to be making that dreadful drive up I-35 from our new home in Austin to Dallas all the time as my “Big D” clients are launching all kinds of projects ranging from education and skill building to the application of my Elegant Simplicity strategic planning model.
  • There is a BIG upswing with my clients shifting more strategic attention to the impactful nature of their stories.  The need to connect to their clients at a much higher level is becoming more and more evident as the need for clarity around separation and differentiation in markets gets some real resource allocation.  The key is the creation of simple, powerful, and elegant stories that can permeate the company and, by plan, head out into the market.
  • One of my new clients is really pushing a hard-core commitment to customer service initiatives that begin with two of my educational programs.  It gives me a regular teaching gig and I love the enthusiasm of the participants.  This is their first opportunity to grow in their skill sets, and they attack the content with the joy of learning elements that have immediate application.
  • In-house work has also been keeping me busy as a number of programs just got updated facelifts.  A Step Ahead, They Shook the World, Repeatable Successful Acts and Elegant Simplicity all had new ideas and content added.  As I continue to have the chance to work with clients in the application of these ideas, I gain greater and greater understanding, and thus, the programs evolve.  The Idea Factory, the latest strategic platform, is now “in play” with my clients.  I have also been getting a ton of office stuff done!
Dallas to Austin

With the Academy Awards over by the time this newsletter goes out, I have received a new wave of requests for the 2012 Top 10 and Bottom 5 Movie list, pushing the total requests to a record 1,200!  WOW!

March will again send me on the road to Florida, New Jersey and back up the road to Dallas!


It's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake it off.

[Florence and the Machine]

This story starts on a subzero winter morning as I walked with my client from the hotel to a meeting to discuss plans for a major shift in strategies around their client experience.  We tried to talk about her expectations, but, it was really COLD!  When we arrived at the office building, its warmth was in sharp contrast to the brutal walk and was a hopeful portent of the positive moves I hoped would come out of the meeting.


Now this company is in a very old and established business, where the idea of leveraging tradition feels like the right model.  After all, it’s been done this way since 2,000 BC (with a few changes along the way).  But the issue on their table is to create separation and differentiation through a strategic focus on their core ability to service their clients AND a shifted focus on their actual desire to improve their service levels.  The bottom line is that their vaunted commitment to the importance of service needs to be changed.  At the same time, it is hard to change anything when an operation is completely encumbered by the accumulation of a history of “yesterdays.” 


Now it’s fair to say that there are lots of successes in yesterdays, or you could not have created your today and tomorrows.  That being said, you truly need to put aside your history for just a single day, in order to craft ideas about tomorrow.  Here’s what the process looks like:

What You Do:  This is the core of service, and it’s grounded in the technical requirements of the business, everything from the details of phone interaction to the access to products and services.  This part of the equation is pretty objective and is defined by the simple story of what you do.  Want to test the “what you do” part of this review? Here is a simple exercise.  Call a meeting of your managers and give them each a 3” x 5” index card and ask them to answer this question, “What do we do?”  Collect the cards and you will discover the current condition of what your “DO” story is.  My guess is that you will end up with a wide variety of descriptions.  You should try to move toward a simple, powerful, and elegant answer to that question.  It doesn’t have to sound like rote memory coming out of everyone in a robotic fashion, but it needs to be similar, containing your core message.  Think of it like asking every to tell the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” story.  It will come out a little different from every teller, but the core of the story will be easily recognizable.
Index Card
How It Makes You Feel:  This is the elusive emotional connection between what you do and what makes the client not only come back, but sing your praises.  What does it FEEL like to do business with you?  Does your phone tree create enough frustration to launch a thermo-nuclear strike at your call center?  Is it the goal to move as many folks through your process as fast as possible? American Express recently threw out the scripted responses used in their call center and moved to training their service providers to listen and respond like human beings to the problems they heard. Guess what?  The percentage of customers who recommended AMX to a friend has doubled since 2006. Do you really care about how someone feels when they need service?  Your daily life is filled with the frustrations of trying to do business with your service providers, so I know you know how it feels from a client’s perspective.  Spend some strategic time to understand the emotional side of the service equation.  I know it’s hard to put value in the so called “soft” side of business, but that soft side creates neat little things like loyalty, referrals, and streams of “word of mouth” impact, so it is surely worth your time.

Restaurateur great Danny Meyers in his book Setting the Table sets up this two-part equation like this:


In Danny’s world, service is getting a great meal on your plate, and hospitality is how they make you FEEL while they do it.  One without the other is meaningless to sustaining leadership in their industry.  Is yours any different?

It’s no secret that service surveys from The American Customer Satisfaction Index to Money Magazine find consistent players in their annual “Hall of Shame” listings.  Half are banks and a third are cable companies.  You know it and they know it.  The good news is that the recent recession has shocked some of them through a “fear factor” into showing improvements, but without a firm resource-driven commitment, a commitment that has to start at the TOP, the chances of pulling a “hall of shame” member up the rungs of great service is nothing but a pipedream.

To end the story I started with, as I headed on the cold walk back to the hotel after the session, I felt fantastic.  We had put aside some of the “way we have always done it” attitudes and begun a map that showed a deep shift in their service models.  We created a simple plan, at its center not the customer, but the service-providing teams.  Make your teams great and they will make your customers sing!

Barnes & Noble Logo

I MISS THE BOOK STORE:  Hey, I’m part of the problem of the demise of the traditional book store, as I now do most of my reading electronically, though a couple of recent purchases have been in print form (Master-Mind by Konnikova and DaVinci’s Ghost by Lester).  But I miss hanging out in book stores, so I was glad to read that Leonard Riggio, the founder of Barnes and Noble, wants to buy its bookstores.  Though the Street thinks the idea of stick and brick retail is worthless, Riggio disagrees and is putting some money where his mouth is.  He has some impressive backers in Liberty Media, Microsoft, and Pearson.  So who knows, maybe there is room for both the classic printed tome and a Kindle offering.

Subway Logo

HEY, JARED!   STILL LOOKING GOOD:  It’s been 15 years since Subway maven and marketing star Jared Fogle weighed in at 425 lbs.  The “Jared Diet” (a 6” turkey sub for lunch and a 12” veggie for dinner with lots of water and walking) knocked 245 lbs. off in a year!  The combination of leveraging this startling news in a well-defined marketing plan and the fact the Jared has kept the weight off have changed the face of the Subway market position.  What is the real impact of this unique combination?  Tony Pace, Subway’s marketing chief has commented, “I’d say one third to one half of Subway’s growth (over the past 15 years) is because of Jared.”  That’s discipline that has paid off for everyone.

Mailbox App

MY DANG INBOX:  There was a time I thought email might be heading the way of the fax, but now I think no matter what the Millennials say, it’s probably here to stay.  I, like you, most often feel like a prisoner of my email, and I continue to search for the Holy Grail of email management methods.  The new mobile app for iPhone and Gmail, MAILBOX, is receiving a ton of accolades.  It has a suite of totally cool email productivity features with about as simple an interface as you have ever seen.  You can organize the morass of email with the swipe of a finger and can transform the way your inbox can work.  Being a sucker for anything simple and productive, I am in line (oh yeah, there is so much hype that you need a reservation to get the app) for Mailbox.  Stay tuned for a review!

Interested in these ideas?


You can contact Steve at or give him a call at (512) 712-5279.
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Steve Harvill • Office: (512) 712-5279 • Cell: (972) 345-9480
109 Top O The Lake • Lakeway, TX 78734