Toronto – Where is the love?

Toronto is one of the best cities in the world and I have been to many of them. But Toronto needs to get it. Let me say this again, with emphasis, we are one of the BEST cities in the    world!  Let’s be proud of it and own it. But somewhere this message is short circuiting. I think the recent Pan Am Games brought this to the surface.

So I am going to call out  the TTC, the City of Toronto, and the Province of Ontario. I would characterize the communications around The Pam Am Games as:  What a “damn” nuisance. “ There were messages about new laws on HOV lanes, expect delays getting to work, stay off the roads, stay at home, heck leave Toronto and avoid all this hassle!

Where, I ask you is the messaging welcoming visitors to our glorious city, or even (heaven help us) encouraging our own people to attend the games and extend the warmth and care to our visitors and celebrate the Games? Where was the messaging of support to our glorious Canadian athletes, not to mention all the athletes in the games? I not saying these messages were not existent, I’m just saying they were not heard. They were overshadowed.High Park Sign

Here is an example of what I am talking about. During the Games, High Park was closed to the public for various races. Now, I get the choice of this venue, it’s a beautiful park. Each time the park was closed, a sign would go up, pylons put down and fences placed for the racers.High Park Fencing 2

There was NEVER any signage at this venue that indicated what the races were, when they were, or even (hold your breath on this idea) encouraging the citizens of Toronto to watch and support these wonderful athletes. Strong men and women who were pitting themselves against each other, bringing on their personal bests in the name of their country. Toronto I ask you where is the love. Instead we got notified of park closure. Do you see my point?

This little story is indicative of so many things. We, the little people of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, are to be managed. It is a “we/them” mentality. Did anyone ever stop to think that we are/were all co-creators of this event because we shared our home with these visitors? From how things were managed, I would suggest that this was never the perspective of any of the government organizing committees. Was there any coordinated communications leadership that positioned celebrating the Games while at the same time clearly communicating the possible inconveniences, all for a good cause?

I want to share another little story with you. I encountered a couple from Columbia one day during the Games. As it turned out, they were brother and sister. The young woman has lived in Toronto for the past 13 years. Her brother had come to visit and was on his last day of a three week vacation. I asked him how he had enjoyed Toronto. He was effusive about the great time he’d had, how friendly everyone had been, how Toronto was a city filled with magic and wonder for him. I was happy and proud to hear his story.

If we can have a vibrant, multicultural, progressive, prosperous country. If we can do all of this here, in peace, then the world can do it. Toronto needs to own being that beacon. Toronto needs to own that noble, empowering communications strategy.

And of the governments of Toronto, Ontario, Canada need to understand that this is our home and when we share it, we all want to do this graciously with warm hospitality, encouragement and care.

Toronto, this is what love looks like.




World Vision- Don’t Hide Your Light

I have the utmost respect for World Vision  based on about 20 years’ worth of child sponsorship. But recently, I found myself immersed in some bizarre communications confusion. The strange thing about this confusion, was that it was all about good news executed in a very convoluted way.

So just to put this story into context, typically Word Vision’s communications have been great. I have appreciated their TV Commercials (in fact that’s how they got me hooked). I have really enjoyed the annual report card on my sponsored child, which features a picture as well as note from my child in his/her language, as well as the English translation.

There is also a report on the community and how it is doing. Over the years many of these communities have become self-sustaining, which means that I get a new child in a new community. Even though I feel sad to lose the child connection, I am always happy that the community is now on its way and that we all played our part in making that happen. We succeeded.

Throughout the year my child and I have exchanged cards for Christmas, return to school etc. There is always a little note from me to the child and vice versa.  For a number of years I have been offered the ability to buy a goat for my family or chickens, which seems like such a great way to make financial contributions direct and meaningful. So, as you can see, I am a fan.

That said, about 6 months ago (or so) I received a rather strange communication from World Vision telling me that for $49.00 (a one time fee) I could have internet access to my sponsored child. The program was called Connect With My Sponsored Child (CWMSC).

As I looked at this offer, I was struck by two things. The first was, why should I pay a fee of $49.00 for this privilege? After all, I don’t pay for the report card or the Christmas card. And it seemed, to be honest, just another request for money. Why didn’t they ask for a financial contribution to support their move to more internet based communication? I would understand that investment. But to restrict internet access to only those who paid for it, struck me as disingenuous and somewhat aggressive. So I decided not to pay the fee and to continue my communications the way we always had.

It came as a surprise when I received an email from World Vision thanking me for registering on line and requesting me to re-register, without any further explanation other than to keep their information updated. I dutifully went to the site and input my name and password and got access.

What a surprise!. In front of my eyes, there was a picture of my sponsored child whose name is Che. There was also a video featuring a look at his community in Cambodia. It was all in Khmer (I assume – but there were English subtitles). It was wonderful to see the community in action. Che

As looked at the video, I thought wouldn’t it be great if there was a video on my little child. I clicked on this picture and OH MY GOD, what did I see but this INCREDIBLE little video of a rather nervous Che, clearly reading his message to me in his native language. He was very relieved once done, finishing with a flourish of hand waving and the word BYE in English. How heartwarming, how delightful.

I was stunned. Charmed, surprised and stunned. And then I thought, I wonder what he was saying, because there were no English sub-titles to help me out. My next thought was, I wonder why I am getting all this internet communication with my sponsored child. Does World Vision think that I signed up for their $49.00 program?

A quick call to World Vision clarified things. No there was no charge for being able to have this internet connectivity with my child. And when I pointed out that I did not understand what Che was saying, the woman I was speaking to said that they would escalate this to get the translation done. So as you can imagine, I am really looking forward to the translation.

This is a good news story, but I think there are some lessons here for World Vision.

Service Marketing Lessons

  1. Connect With My Sponsored Child Program seems ill–founded.  What was its purpose? It would create two tiers of sponsors. Those who paid got internet connection. Those who did not pay, were out of luck. From a cost point of view, I suspect considerable cost savings to be had from the CWMSC program in postage alone, so this didn’t make sense.
  2. The communication was confusing. The strange email asking me to re-register, did not say why I needed to re-register. There was no mention of the Connect With My sponsored Child Program. So now I thought I had been charged for a program I did not sign up for.
  3. Translation did not happen at the individual child level and so a moment of pure customer delight was less than it could have been.
  4. It’s a brilliant idea to use inexpensive video technology to build sponsor and community ties. World Vision needs to make it a two way communication. Can I upload a video of myself and have it sent to my child?
  5. There was no communications announcing this new capability to the donors. This was a chance for World Vision to thank their sponsors, to show how forward thinking they are by using the technology to build connections and communities. World Vision did not take the opportunity to celebrate this development and to get the kudos they deserved.

World Vision you are doing good work. Just straighten out how you are deploying technology, keep the user experience in mind and promote new technical capability with fanfare. BRAVO !

Shoppers Drug Mart New Optimum E-Card


I can never find my *—-* Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum card.  I have about 12 cards in my wallet and for some reason it never seems easy to find. So there I am in front of the cashier, holding up the line once again. People get impatient, I get flustered and this only makes things worse, as I fumble away.

So you can imagine how grateful I felt when an empathetic cashier told me that Shoppers has an app that replaces the card. She said I just needed to download the app onto my phone and would not need a card again. Hallelujah, I thought – this is just what I need.

I happily download the app on my iPhone. It was a breeze to do, no problem. Then I opened the app and answered all the questions it asked me. That too was easy. So I was pretty pumped imagining the speed at checkouts in the future, smiling fellow customers, happy cashiers – yes life was going to be good !

Alas it was not that easy. After taking all my information, I got a message that said, that I needed to call the office.  What?? Why?? Well this was getting too complicated and I had run out of time, so I left it.

The next morning I tried again. The system seemed to accept me, took all my information and then proudly presented me with a new card, or a virtual card to be more precise. There it was, a lovely new Shoppers Optimum Card on my phone.  Great, thought I, now I have two Optimum cards!! Just what I need.

Ok OK so now you are asking – why didn’t you phone the office as directed? And that is a good and fair question. I guess I was hoping that it would work the second time round and that I could avoid all the waiting time, explanation time, frustration time etc. on the phone.  So to be fair to Shoppers Drug Mart, I did try to circumvent their process.

In spite of the renegade card situation, I went to Shoppers Drug Mart the other day, and gave them my phone with the virtual card on it to see what happened. The young cashier scanned my phone on her scanner. And I got my points, just like that.  The woman in line next to me looked a little stunned, which was a far better response from the customer line ups I have known in the past. And I have to say it was much easier to find it on my phone that in my wallet. When I admitted my two card problem to the cashier she advised I contact the office and they would immediately credit my points to my new virtual card.

So emboldened by my shopping success, I finally made the call to the dreaded Shoppers Drug Mart Call Centre. What a surprise! The phone menu was short and I got connected almost immediately. I explained the problem. The young woman asked me which card I wanted to keep, and she had some security questions for me. I passed the test and all my points now live on my virtual card.

So I asked her, what did I do wrong the first time? Was it me or was it Shoppers Drug Mart? She told me that they always have you phone the office when you set up the new card. It’s a security measure. So I hadn’t screwed up after all. But of course, none of that was communicated during the setup process. She said that they are working on the messaging process and was sorry for the inconvenience and thanked me for my feedback (A well trained front line person)

Service Management Lessons:

  1. Shout out to Shoppers Optimum Program for innovatively providing a virtual optimum card. This is a GREAT idea.
  2. The app worked really well, easy to download and use
  3. Directing customers to call the office without explaining why, was a problem. To avoid confusion, customers deserve to know that the process includes a phone call as a final step for security purposes.
  4. Call Centre – the telephone menu was simple. The front line staff were knowledgeable, competent and empathetic
  5.  Communication Strategy – fumble free is a great benefit (not in those words but in that sentiment) Promotional deals are the second benefit. So I am not sure about this communication strategy.I get that Shoppers is excited about a captive audience that they can promote to electronically and that is pretty exciting. I wonder if they missed an opportunity to delight customers with the new technology, first. Perhaps if they had done a soft launch promoting the e-card first and then following up with the other advantages.
  1. Front Line Involvement – Maybe some sort of small flyer that Shoppers has the cashier hand out about the new e-card would generate more dialog with between customers and cashiers.

I am not seeing consistent, balanced, customer centric management thinking in both the marketing communications and the execution on this exciting development at Shoppers. They will be interesting to watch over the next few months to see how they are doing.

Self-Service Technology that WORKS

I would say that this self-service technology (SST) MORE THAN WORKS, it’s just a plain, smart idea. Let me tell you about my experience.

I recently moved into a new building. Wash day arrived and I headed down to the basement to scope out the facilities. I had been given a Coinamatic card when I moved in. I knew I had to load the card but I was not sure how to do that, although I understood that there was a machine in the laundry room.

To be honest, I had some concerns about using the laundry facilities. I was hopeful the machines would be clean, operate well (as in, not eat my clothing) and that it would be easy to figure out how to get money onto my card.

Imagine my delight (another example of customer delight – if you have been following my other posts) when I arrived at said laundry room to see the following:

Sparkling Laundry Room
Sparkling Laundry Room

Well lit, spotless laundry room

Several sinks for hand washing

Clean washroom

A lounge area with television

Windows overlooking the front of the property

Large, modern laundry machines

Coinamatic machine to purchase laundry time


It seemed straightforward on how to use the Coinamatic machine to transfer money from my bank account, once you had this function set up. But I was unclear how to do the initial setup. The company provided a telephone number, and their web site URL. The sign said I could also go to the management office to put money on my card.

So, I thought to myself, it should not be too complicated. I would just go to my apartment and get onto their web site and look for instructions. This proved to be easier than I had anticipated because there was a link to a YouTube video that gave step by step instructions on how to do what I needed. See the video below:

Coinamatic Card Set Up

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I headed back to the laundry room and did the setup and transferred money from my debit card to my Coinamatic card. Then I did my laundry uneventfully. And of course, that’s what we all want, we just want it to be EASY to do laundry. So it was.

This is a Shout Out to both Coinamatic – for lovely modern laundry machines that work and for an easy payment method. This is also a shout out to Minto who own and manage the building with customer centric perspective (stay tuned for more on Minto in a post to come)


Where Business Opportunity and Customer Needs Meet….His name is Ming.

DeskI thought I was being a pretty smart shopper. I figured out the desk I wanted at Staples – online. I’d measured the location for it.  I’d done my competitive research and I’d even done a brief online chat to get some more information.

But I was hesitant about purchasing it online. I really needed to actually see the desk, Sometimes we just need to touch and feel stuff.  So off I went to my local Staples store, after learning that they had one in inventory from my e-chat person.

I was on a quest that day. I wanted this desk and I wanted it this weekend. Big question was, could it happen and what type of experience was this going to be, anyway??

I arrived with my paper work and highlighted item number ready to do business. Ming, my young store associate got rather excited when he saw what I wanted. He said that the unit was not the colour. But they had a really good deal, they were selling it for $100 not the $399.00 shown on-line. So for $299, I wondered to myself, just how wedded was I to the “Expresso” colour, “Alder” would work with my other furniture possibly even better than Expresso.  It was hard to argue with the money.

Ming my enthusiastic, store associate and I looked at the picture on the box, looked at the wood through a corner of the box and while it was not an exact replica of the unit on line – it sure looked very close. He was also happy to show me that there was also a shelf to match for a low price of $34.00. As he told me they never had deals like this in the store. For a moment, I wondered if Ming might want to buy this desk and shelf, he was clearly personally  very enthusiastic about these products.

But said I, I cannot put this together myself. Do you have an installer? Well,this seemed to be some sort of a problem They did have a third party installer they used, but didn’t sound too confident that they would install the desk, but maybe they could work something out from the store. Also I said, I would need it delivered and if you can do that I will take it! So Ming scurried off to have some conversations and came back to tell me that for $199.00,  I could have the desk,including installation and delivery. But he was sorry to say that this would have to be on Sunday. Given it was Friday, I thought I could wait for a day, so I said ok, you have yourself a deal. At which point Ming happily rang up the purchase, but not before asking me if I was sure I didn’t want the shelf it was such a great deal.  However I declined.

So let’s stop here for a moment. I want you to join me, from the part of my mind that looks at the world through the lens of service marketing. Let’s reflect on this business transaction.

Ming is a most unusual store associate. As soon as we spoke and he had seen what I wanted, he immediately locked up the cash ( there was another associate to cover) and brought me to the desk, I had his undivided attention. He answered all my questions, checked store inventory ( his and others)  for the Expresso model.  Even though it might have meant losing my sale to another store. He didn’t know that I was in no mood to drive all over the city in search of this model  when it looked like I had a perfectly good ( even cheaper alternative)…. But he checked this part of the city for inventory and printed the list for me, regardless, because he was looking after ME.  He knew I needed delivery and installation so he made an arrangement with someone at the store to do the install economically because he was looking after ME. As we wrapped up the transaction he asked me if I was sure that I did not want the matching shelf, it would be a shame to want it later and not be able to get it. I was sure,  but he had been thorough and double checked at the end just in case.  I did not feel  under any pressure. Sure Ming was looking after Staples, but he was also looking after ME. With everything he’d done for me and the relationship we had built, I had no issue with his question.

Now I do not believe that Staples stores are franchises, I believe each store is owned corporately. But I did have the thought – that given Ming’s  attentiveness, perhaps he was the son of the store manager. Because he just seems to love doing business and looking after customers.  Isn’t this exactly the type of front line employee that we all want and need in our service businesses?  Ming loves his job and he is very, very good at it. Staples you are lucky, I hope you support, encourage and train this young man. He is a high potential employee and he will build your business.

After Ming and I concluded our business,, I  realized that I had forgotten  something and headed to another part of the store. When I returned with my purchase, Ming was serving another customer who had bought an Apple laptop. The two of them were chatting about the laptop, the customer had some technical questions that Ming was happy to answer. As they finished their conversation, Ming asked the customer if he wanted  an extended warranty. The customer considered this, but declined saying that he had never had a problem with Apple in the past. At which point Ming said, “ I am not on commission or anything, but we do get these back every once and a while , that’s why I’m bringing this to your attention”. The customer had made up his mind and Ming, the intrepid business man in the making,  was ok with that, he just wanted the customer to understand his motivation was about looking after his customer.  Good for you Ming, keep doing what you’re doing , one customer opportunity at a time, doing what your instincts are telling you to do, just look after your customers.  That’s how successful people do it.

Congratulations Staples – you have a live one!


Autoshare Fiat and LadyPurchasing a car can be such a big, weighty decision.  Let’s face it, cars are very expensive. Gas prices climb. Unexpected car repairs happen.

Yet ……. it sure is nice to just jump in the car whenever you want. You don’t have to stand in line for public transit or try to figure out how to schlep some boxes on the TTC.

This is where AutoShare comes in.  You can rent a car by the hour for as low as $ 9.25 – $13.25 an hour. This price includes insurance, gas and 200 kilometers of travel. There is an annual membership fee of $45.00 and a one-time initiation fee of $29.00. ( …and no, I don’t work for the company !)

I live within walking distance of the subway, in Toronto. So when I looked at my transportation needs, my easy access to public transit and the inexpensive cost of AutoShare, I really wondered about the cost of purchasing a car.

While AutoShare’s web site, shows an annual saving of $6300 per person (using 2011 stats), when I did the math, based on using their service twice per month, my cost was more like $8400 per year. But  any way you look at it, the numbers are compelling.

But – just how easy is it to use their service I wondered. My curiosity grew, when I realized that there were AutoShare reserved parking lots in front of my building. Hmmmm, I thought I should really check them out.

As it turned out, I never made that call because AutoShare found me, and that, my friends, is really good service marketing!  I was attending a local street festival that Toronto summers are famous for and who did I encounter, under an AutoShare tent but three upbeat, happy AutoShare employees who were delighted to talk to me because – boy oh boy – (as they said) did they have a deal for me !!!!

And sure enough, they did have a deal for me. They gave me a Basic Plan for $10.00 instead of $45.00, the first two hours of car rental for free AND………. ( did you hear that drum roll)……… a Starbuck coffee card pre-loaded with $10.00. Now, how could I say no?  My credit card comes with Collision Damage Insurance so I did not need AutoShare’s insurance plan (Which is $65 per year by the way).

The Membership card arrived in the mail about 3 days later. I had been told it would take a week, so I was surprised and pleased. (Cardinal rule of service marketing – under promise and over deliver)

So far so good, but any service businesses can be prone to operational execution problems – you know – when the rubber hits the road (I know, I know – I just couldn’t help myself ) So I wondered how all of this would actually work out, when I used the service for the first time.  So here is a description of my first experience.

I called in to reserve a car at around 5 pm for the following morning at 9 am, wondering if, in fact, there would be a car available. As it turned out, there was. Not in front of my building but at a building nearby.  A confirmation email arrived with detailed instructions and information about where to find the car.

The following morning, I was filled with excitement to get some chores done and to zip around the city in one of those great, little, new, blue Fiats. I put my Member Card on the windshield waiting for a green light to come on that would open the car door. Instead I got a red light and no door opening. I tried again, no joy.   What????

I phoned the number on the back of my membership card. As it turned out, the woman who had taken my reservation had recorded the date and time wrong. It was recorded for 9 am of the day I made the reservation not the following day. Now, as a service marketer I wondered, how a reservation could be made in a computer system for a time that was in the past? That is surely a fail point that could have been avoided by the computer not accepting that reservation.

Fortunately, there was a car available in the lot, but it wasn’t one of those great, little Fiats, it was a Toyota. I was disappointed – but I could have it for the same price and it was available on my time line.

Ok I said, but don’t hang up while I check this car out (I was a little apprehensive at this point) She was happy to stay on the line while I got entry to the Toyota and she explained about looking for any damage to the car and how that would work it there was any.

There wasn’t any issue, except that the car was a bit dirty inside – sand on the floor. She apologized and said that if I want to get it cleaned, they would reimburse me.  I didn’t have that kind of time available for this trip. So after asking her a number of questions how things worked, off I headed.

Within half an hour I got a phone call from Mark, the supervisor apologizing for the inconvenience and offering me a $10 credit on my next trip and extending my reservation for another half hour at no additional charge. I was happy with his call. I did my chores and returned the car without any further issues. I also was able to check my bill on line to make sure that I had received my two hours free that was part of the sign up promotion.  I am happy to say that all was good.

So as a service marketer, AutoShare did a number of things right. The sales promotion offer was excellent. Clearly it is a smart marketing to support neighbourhood events where your fleet is located. Cross promotion with Starbucks was great – a win, win, win for everyone.

The reservation had a problem, one that can be fixed relatively easily, one would think. The service recovery was excellent. The phone call from the supervisor with apologies and a service credit was timely and went some distance in making me, the customer, feel better about the beginning of this AutoShare relationship.

The company responded quickly and with appropriate compensation. As customers, we get to know our service providers by how they deal with us under adverse conditions. AutoShare stepped up and earned my trust.

Will I use AutoShare again? Yes. Will I recommend it to others? Yes……………and will I get one of those cute, little Fiats next time?  You betcha 🙂

Making It Right

Moving days are always tense. There is just so many moving pieces ( if you’ll pardon the pun) to the whole process. Then there are all the people who are involved. And of course, you are dependent on them for showing up on time and being able to do what they say they can do.

So as you can imagine, I had a certain amount of trepidation when my recent moving day arrived. I had chosen Lift Labour on the recommendation of the UHaul location that was storing my “stuff”. I was dealing with Steve, the owner.

He was sending Amine to the locker at 1 pm.  So with the help of some very dear friends, we were able to get the locker unloaded and were mostly re-loaded when Amine showed up. Now Amine is young and not very big, so I was a little worried that all this moving might be too much for him. But he was much stronger than I thought. He got right into things, re-organized our less than expert packing job and got all the final boxes into the truck. The day was hot, we were tired and Amine was just what the doctor ordered!! So off we headed to the new apartment.

The rest of the afternoon was intense. We needed to have the move done by 4:30. So with the help of my friends and Amine we got the job done.

Once in, the next job was to have Amine assemble the Ikea bed. He went right to the job but hit some problems and by 11:30 pm that night – we had to call it quits with the bed still unassembled.

I needed a place to sleep and I was concerned that Lift Labour might not have the right person available to do the job. So I contacted Ikea, only to be told that their 3rd party company did not do installation fixes. So basically I was out of luck for support on my bed assembly. You can imagine my angst and I have written about this in an earlier blog.

The point of this blog is what happened when I went back to Lift Labour to get them to rectify this situation. …… And here is the amazing part. Steve – the owner sent Amine and a senior assembler over to fix the problem. They did not leave me high and dry, they did not tell me it was MY problem, they did not ask for more money, they just calmly, professionally made it right.

And from a services marketing point of view, Lift Labour exemplifies what it takes to be a good service provider. He looked after his customer, he looked after his people, he solved the problem quickly with the right talent that provided a learning opportunity for the more junior employee. He earned customer and employee trust and loyalty.

Problems happen but it’s what you do, when they happen that makes all the difference. Integrity shows and Lift Labour has it. So, no wonder Steve tells me that they have never had to advertise, they get their business through word of mouth and why is that not surprising.