Those of you who have been part of my online family for a while know two deep, dark secrets about me:
1) That I can’t stop reminding you that customer service and fulfillment as they pertain to your product or service, while seemingly being the most boring part of what you might do, might just be the most important marketing function in your operation.
2) And that in a different twist on “fulfillment,” I am actually a little league baseball umpire disguised as a direct marketer (i.e. “Who is that masked man who would rather call balls and strikes than carve out the next great marketing plan?”). When the summer ends, and the little league baseball season is officially over, I need to figure out what I can do to stay busy until next April when the baseball season begins again.
What I want to do today is to tell the story about how the importance of customer service and fulfillment relate directly to baseball umpiring…and even if you live in a country where baseball is not on your radar, I think you will understand this connection…and why it’s so important to your business.
Two reasons why this popped into my head today: First, the Little League World Series just wrapped up (with the team from my local district in Connecticut ending up #3 in the United States!); and second, I am heading into my next Titans Mastermind meeting next week where there will be multiple speakers presenting about this critical area (customer service, not baseball) and they will talk about how to deliver perfection to those you serve.
Baseball and direct marketing…there is a connection.
If you scroll down my site at www.briankurtz.me, you will see a picture of me umpiring a baseball game…and you may have wondered what that is all about.
And here’s another photo taken this past summer…at the championship game in my local district (in front of a capacity crowd of “dozens,” none of whom came to see me)!
The discussion about how direct marketing and umpiring could be related in any way began when by buddy, copywriter (and copywriter coach) Kevin Rogers asked me the following questions:
“Why would ANYONE want to be an umpire?
And how do you see it relating to what you do in other areas in your life?”
My quick answer was that my wife likes me more with my mask on…but I guess that’s not a great answer.
And after I lost 35 pounds four years ago (and actually looked thin even with my chest protector on!), I told people:
“Everyone dislikes the umpire…and everyone REALLY dislikes the fat umpire.”
But just being a thinner umpire didn’t answer Kevin’s question either.
I thought the answer would come to me as I figured out how I got into this weird hobby.
The lure of umpiring started when I was around 13 years old when I was too old to play on the smaller little league field…and the major league size field didn’t seem to lend itself to a fat, slow kid who couldn’t reach second base from home plate with a throw (I was a catcher).
But I love baseball…the logic of the game, the way all of the rules just “make sense”…and the fact that there is no clock.
While I hate the expression, “Those who can’t do, teach” (since my entire family were teachers) I am perfectly comfortable saying, “Those who can’t play, umpire.”
So I became an umpire at 16 years old and have done it my entire life…and I hope to umpire at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania one day (I know many of you are sick of me talking about that)–but it remains at the top of my bucket list.
In 2013 I umpired home plate in a semi-final game at the Little League Eastern Regional (one step from Williamsport) and it was on TV on ESPN.
Forget 15 minutes of fame…I had two hours on national TV calling balls and strikes!
Back to Kevin’s question. Through these recollections, I came up with multiple answers to the questions about why I love to umpire baseball and how it relates to other aspects of business and life.
I know you all participate in certain activities or have something similar that you do outside of “work” that might fulfill on some of these things too:
1) The focus it takes to do it well…and how it adds to increased focus in other areas
When I’m on the field, calling 100 to 200 balls and strikes for 2+ hours, knowing that missing any one of them gets me yelled at, is a challenge I relish.
And when I get home from a game and get back on the computer and start working again, my focus on everything else is heightened.
As I mentioned above, I will bet that all of you have something that enables you to increase your focus in more than one area of your life (e.g. meditation, yoga, running, skiing etc.).
If you don’t, I highly recommend it…and if you pick something where you don’t get yelled at when you don’t do it with close to 100% accuracy that might be a better choice than umpiring baseball.
2) Creating order from chaos
This is something that my mentor Marty Edelston lived by and created publications and books where this was the main purpose.
He even bought expensive art work that expressed this concept to constantly remind him of this, his life’s mission.
I don’t buy art work…but umpiring fills the need here to remind me that creating order from chaos applies everywhere.
I’m sure most of you strive to create order from chaos in your life all the time too…and think about activities that might help you become even better at it across the board seems worthwhile.
While no one is really a “fan” of the umpires at a baseball game, umpires are necessary since there would be chaos on the field without someone enforcing the rules (whether you agree with the umpires all the time or not).
But how does umpiring connect to direct marketing?
It actually does in a big way.
3) It’s all about customer service and fulfillment
After I umpire a great game, the best case scenario is that I was hardly noticed and someone says “nice game ump” or “good job back there.”
No one came to the game to see me…and no one cares about me until I miss a call.
Maybe if I get hit with a foul ball in a sensitive place there will be some care and concern…but I can tell you from experience that most spectators at a baseball game would just as well get a replacement umpire quickly rather than spend much time figuring out how I can get my wounds addressed.
It’s useful to think about job functions where “no one cares what we do until we screw up”—and let’s think about it today in relation to a critical area of direct marketing, customer service (and fulfillment).
If anyone in marketing today thinks customer service and fulfillment are not marketing functions, they are missing the boat.
And making sure the people responsible for these functions in your organization are well paid and constantly acknowledged for their work should always be a high priority.
But alas…the fulfillment manager, on his or her best day, usually hears crickets. They receive little in the way of accolades or pats on the back when they do their job well.
However, when there are any problems (i.e. when they “blow a call”), all hell breaks loose.
I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be a successful fulfillment manager/customer service representative…or to umpire…or to do anything where doing a fantastic job goes mostly unnoticed.
But having pride in giving “exquisite service” and not being noticed when you are doing a perfect job might just be the most rewarding thing you can do in life.
What happens is that you spend more time pursuing excellence than praise.
And it’s even more satisfying when the praise eventually comes as a result of your patience—it is better when you aren’t actively looking for it.
I encourage those of you who are overseeing everything in a business to be more conscious of this if you can.
Excellence must be noticed and rewarded whether the job function directly makes money for the company or if it’s a behind-the-scenes, less glamourous function.
The wonderful telephone operator who solves a customer’s problem and saves an order or avoids a cancellation, probably made the day of someone they will never meet…and they are a hero to your business as much as the top performing salesperson or marketer.
And the folks who do the behind-the-scenes jobs also seem to find so much satisfaction in “saving the day” whether it’s noticed by one or many.
I guess it’s obvious too that hiring for this personality types–people who live to serve–will make your business better.
You must have people in your life and in your business who simply love to make order out of chaos.
Please take this audit of your business right now: If you have people on your staff (or who you work with) that only hear from you (or irate customers) when they screw up, you need to be the one to acknowledge their solid work “behind the plate” when no one else is noticing or acknowledging.
I have another post that expanded on this topic called, “The return on returns”… which explored other ways you can make sure your customer service and “back end operation” are as impressive as your front end marketing efforts.
I know the back end is not as glamorous or sexy…but without total dedication to customer care once someone buys from you, you will lose them in a heartbeat and negate all of the great work you did to win them over with your brilliant copy and an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Direct marketing rule of thumb:
It is much easier and less costly to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
Lifetime value (“LTV”) is the most important calculation and it is far more important how much money you make on the first sale.
And it’s really OK to simply strive for “nice game ump” at various points along the way during that lifetime…whether it’s you, your associates or your employees.
And again, please remember to give accolades to those who may not get them often if you are in a positon to do so in your business.
I will get to Williamsport soon—I’m counting on it. And I hope I am not boring you with this obsession.
But even if you could care less about my ultimate umpiring goal, I encourage you to look everywhere in your own life for the equivalent of “nice game ump” moments you can initiate.
Simply put, not everyone has to be the star of the game to be the hero of the game.
If I get to Williamsport it will have nothing to do with fame and fortune since no one really cares about the umpires anyway nor do the umpires get paid at the Little League World Series.
Instead it will have everything to do with focus…creating order from chaos…and the ultimate reward for creating a ton of “customer satisfaction” consistently and over a long period of time.
And I’m only doing it with kids…please note that you can do this with grownups too.
P.S. Those of you who are still eagerly awaiting your copy of the new edition of Gene Schwartz’s lost classic, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You (with an accompanying workbook), I’m sorry for the delay…we had a snafu with the printer but we should have books and workbooks by the end of the month.
If you are not on the alert list (so I can email you as soon as I have books available), just send me an email with “BB ALERT LIST” in the subject line.
P.P.S. And if you have not purchased your copy of the most important book ever written on copywriting, creative and human behavior, Breakthrough Advertising, also written by Gene Schwartz,
I am just about out of the first printing–but I still have around 25 left in inventory before I go back to press.
Snatch up your copy here if you have not purchased one yet…the book is a game-changer.
And if you have no idea what I am talking about or if you don’t know who Gene Schwartz is, please read “Genius…passion…and building larger mice” and “Grammar is overrated.”
Then please make sure you have a copy of Breakthrough Advertising in your marketing library–and that you are on the alert list for Brilliance Breakthrough.