March 31, 2018

In the early 1980s, baseball writer Thomas Boswell wrote a book called How Life Imitates the World Series. 

As a lifelong, diehard baseball fan, I loved this title and I will tell you why in a moment. 

And if you don’t like baseball or if you are unaware baseball is even a sport, I promise that today’s email will still be relevant to you as a marketer, entrepreneur or business builder. 

I am writing about this today for two reasons: 

First, this weekend is the opening of the baseball season in the United States; and second,  I wanted to give you a sneak preview into a chapter of my new book that I just completed—the chapter is titled “The Return on Returns: Why Customer Service and Fulfillment are Marketing Functions.” 

Since baseball is such a big part of my life, much like direct marketing, I often look for ways where my two passions collide… and it seems to happen more often than not. 

I hope this happens often for you with your own passions whether you think you are “playing” or “working.” 

The overlap warms my heart, as I think back to my mentor Gene Schwartz and how he melded his passions of modern art and direct response copywriting. 

I’m not sure if Gene was a baseball fan or not, but I think he’d approve. 

I am not just a casual fan of the game (and I think you know that I’m not casual about this “direct marketing thing” either). 

I was a pretty good catcher in Little League… a legend in my own mind at 12 years old… but what happens in youth baseball when you turn 13 is that you go from a miniature field to a much larger one, the same size field major league players play on. 

Being a fat kid (a.k.a. “husky kid” when my relatives didn’t want to make me feel so bad), that big field was a problem for me… since I was also quite slow and running 90 feet rather than 60 feet just to get on base was a problem. 

And while I could still catch, the distances to throw the ball were too far for me as well. 

But I still loved the game and wanted to be part of it even though my “body type” (and ability) were standing in the way of my future baseball career. 

So…how could I get on the field competently? 

That’s how I became an umpire… the most hated man on the field…but in my mind “the savior” since I could create order out of chaos… especially with little leaguers. 

I knew they needed me even if they didn’t realize my incredible value. 

I loved the game, I knew the rules, I had a loud voice… and being a little husky and a lot slow did not hold me back… in fact, it seemed like all of the umpires I ever saw on TV were fat. 

That led me to a theory: “Everyone hates the umpire… and everyone hates a fat umpire even more.” 

I think that’s the reason I’ve committed to being thinner my entire life. 

But umpiring gave me much more than just a hobby (inside a passion) and a way to avoid obesity — it is also directly related to my other passion, direct marketing, in more ways than I ever would have imagined. 


How Baseball Imitates Direct Marketing 

Back to the open loop above on why I love the title, How Life Imitates The World Series: 

I became an umpire at 16 years old and have done it my entire life… Little League, high school level, men’s and women’s softball… and my dream is to umpire at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania one day. 

I completely understand if you don’t understand any of this part… but this is heading towards some important direct marketing principles… promise. 

I’m sure you have passions in your life that, on the surface, have no relationship to your “work”…  however, ask anyone about their hobbies, interests, exercise routines etc., and they will tell you how those “things they do outside of work” give them more focus when they are back at their desk… wherever they distinguish the line between their work and their play. 

Of course I maintain — as it said on the back of Marty Edelston’s business card — that “The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play.”



But for this part of the discussion let’s assume there is a distinction. 

At least a little one. 

Like all of the activities in your life, the concentration required to do everything well is demanding (whether it’s being a lawyer, accountant, dentist… or if it’s off road mountain biking, skiing, yoga)… in all cases and in all situations, distractions can lead to failure. 

In the case of your livelihood, you could lose a client, have a downturn in business or even get fired from a job; in extreme sports, for example, it could lead to physical injury. 

And with umpiring, while you could get hit in the head with a baseball if you are daydreaming, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, the real “injuries” come when you get yelled at for missing a call. 

I know you might get a “correction” during your less-than-perfect Downward Facing Dog pose in a yoga class… but missing an obvious call in a baseball game will go beyond just being “corrected”—you may have a coach arguing with you (loudly) in your face and possibly kicking dirt on you… and the parent of the kid who was the “victim” of your awful call will be screaming from the stands about what a despicable human being you are. 

Maybe I should take up yoga… 

So how is this relevant to direct marketing and a chapter about customer service and fulfillment? 

I got to the connection by exploring why I would subject myself to an endeavor such as umpiring in my “free time”–and it came to a head when my friend, copywriter and copywriter coach Kevin Rogers, asked me (since copywriters, as we know, have insatiable curiosity and are not afraid to ask the tough questions): 

“Why would ANYONE want to be an umpire? 

My quick answer was that my wife likes me more with my mask on…but I knew it was more than that. 

Since I love doing it, I know there had to be something motivating me to be abused so much… and I came up with three answers to the question. 

The first two I have already touched on: 

1) I love the focus required to do it well. 

2) I love creating order from chaos by applying established principles and rules (in this case to the game of baseball). 

3) I love that underneath it all, umpiring is about customer service and fulfillment, with an emphasis on achieving excellence with no ego. 

I promise for the rest of this chapter to focus on #3… since this is where life imitates baseball, specifically in the area of customer service and fulfillment. 

(And when I say “fulfillment” here, I am no longer talking about my personal fulfillment—or yours– but rather fulfillment for the “customer.”) 

After I umpire a great game (i.e. I didn’t “miss a call” and no one noticed that I was even there), the best case scenario is that someone says: 

“Nice game ump.” 

Here’s a shocker: No one comes to a baseball game to see the umpire (and even if you don’t understand baseball, I think you will agree that no one comes to any sporting event to see the referee or the official of that game). 

But the moment the official makes a mistake, they are not only noticed…they become the villain. 

If you have ever worked in customer service, fulfillment or any part of a business that is all about making the behind-the-scenes stuff seamless, I think you might be getting the connection. 

Most customers don’t usually go out of their way to interact with a company to experience their customer service and fulfillment. 

They are buying, receiving, enjoying (sort of like playing in a baseball game on a beautiful sunny spring day)… but if something is not right with the experience, it’s time to get “satisfaction” for the wrong that has been inflicted upon them. 

No one wants to feel wronged… and if you don’t make it right for them (quickly), I guarantee that the lifetime value of this customer will decrease significantly, maybe even to nothing, or less than nothing. 

This is the “marketing after the marketing” — and when we screw up on delivering for our customers, it is absolutely the worst thing we can do in business. 

As I’ve said in other ways throughout this book already, it’s much easier to keep a customer happy (and increasing their lifetime value) than to get a new customer… although for most, it feels sexier to get new customers all the time. 

Saving a loyal customer after they feel you have not fulfilled on your promise (at any point in the relationship), is the most important “sales function”– not as glamorous as closing someone new—but I maintain far more important. 

You do this by making world-class customer service your highest priority. 

The fact that so many marketers today put up with 50% return rates (or higher) on an initial sale (I guess because keeping 50% of their new customers is “good enough”), makes me cringe. 

And even if that is the prevailing philosophy regarding the initial sale, and they might only keep half (cringe), many still make the mistake of not spending enough time caring and nurturing the “lucky 50%” who ordered and did not cancel their order or return the product. 

Marketing doesn’t end after the first sale. 

Doing everything to keep each customer happy and coming back for more is your top priority. 

Having a total commitment to the highest quality (and integrity) on the initial sale is the most important first step… but that same mindset needs to be in place with all customers throughout their lifespan with you. 

And regarding customer service and fulfillment, please have this maxim front and center all the time: 

“Everything is not a revenue event but everything is a relationship event.” 

A simpler way to put it as it pertains to customer service: 

“Lifetime value increases the longer someone loves you and wants to buy from you in the future like they have in the past… but sometimes you need to simply take care of them without an exchange of funds.” 

Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs and business owners treat their customer service and fulfilment as an afterthought (and not just the “function” but the people they hire for those jobs too). 

These short-sighted executives act as though the actual real-world interaction with real-life people who buy from them doesn’t matter once a sale is made. 

Big mistake. 

And these execs should also be aware that their fulfillment manager, or customer service rep, on his or her best day, will get the equivalent of “nice game ump.” 

If there are no problems, these folks remain invisible… but when they “blow a call,” they become the least popular employees in the company. 

It takes a certain kind of personality to umpire… or to be a fulfillment manager or customer service representative. 

Taking pride in giving exquisite service — and being willing to do it without being noticed — is extremely rare. 

My advice it to give them the proper attention and kudos when they do their job well. 

While they tend not be needy looking for positive reinforcement, they still deserve as much praise for a job well done as any employee; after all, they are human.

 And they deserve the same kind of accolades you give to your sales reps or copywriters. 

Keeping existing customers happy is as important—even more important—than attracting new customers. 

In addition, pay close attention to the hiring of these people… and pay them well. 

They are your first line of defense in terms of protecting against leakage of your best potential customers; and they are your last line of defense against customers you want to keep as part of your “family” and ensuring they don’t leave you forever over something that is easily resolvable. 

Always remember too that satisfaction cuts both ways when you think about customer service as a marketing function. For example: 

1) The wonderful telephone operator who solves a customer’s problem behind the scenes and saves an order or avoids a cancellation feels like they are part of “sales” and “revenue creation” (or what we can call “revenue saving”). And the folks I know who are the best at customer service feel so much satisfaction in “saving the day” whether it’s noticed by one or by many. 

2) And the delighted customer who was previously agitated, who receives a positive outcome, will have their day made and might just become a customer for life. 

Make sure you look after every part of your customer service and fulfillment, because the only way to stay in business for the long haul is to focus relentlessly on keeping your customers happy. 

And that includes keeping your employees happy, too. 

You must do everything in your power to prevent delays, keep your returns to a minimum, and to make sure that every interaction the customer has with your business is a positive one. 

Even if things go wrong, as long as you and everyone on your team is committed to making things right (i.e. saving every customer with every interaction, no matter how negative or potentially damaging), you will build resilience into your business — because, as we know, all businesses thrive on repeat purchases. 

You can even base your entire differentiation strategy as a company on how you treat your customers. 

Look at well-known retail businesses like Nordstrom, Stew Leonards, Ritz Carlton — they are differentiated in extremely competitive, commoditized industries due to their unrivalled customer service. 

I love tracking what companies have done to create incredible levels of service for their best customers, especially with commoditized products… look at other examples of this like Amazon Prime and the American Express Black Card. 

Creating what is called a “barrier to switch” is a big part of this discussion too but that is its own topic for another day. 

For now, I will just say that your product or service is only a commodity if you let it be a commodity. 


Now that we’ve come full circle and established that the umpire is the most important person on the field at every baseball game… and the people on the phone delighting (and often saving) your best customers are your most important employees, my job is done here. 

Play ball! 





P.S. Sorry for the excessive length of this post…and there is even a lot more in this Chapter on “Customer Service and Fulfillment” in the book (including more detail on the open loop at the end about “barrier to switch”)…but I wanted to give you a flavor of the book to see what you think. 

Your feedback is always welcome and encouraged. Email me with any thoughts or comments. 

Regular readers of this blog for a few years will recognize some excerpts in today’s blog—I can’t resist talking about baseball at the beginning of every new season! 

But the book will not be “reruns”– I am working hard to expand on everything I have shared in these posts over the past 4 years. 

I am also looking forward to sharing more with you in the coming months in advance of the launch of the book in early 2019. 

Thanks as always for being part of my online family.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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