January 31, 2011
Despite the sketchy weather on the East Coast, I’m back from the ASI Orlando Show, where multiple records (number of distributor attendees, exhibitors, education day participants, etc.) were shattered. This proves to me that the sense of resurgence and recovery I felt at the PSI Dusseldorf Show two weeks ago wasn’t a fluke: The industry’s bad days have passed, and, as they say in NoLa, laissez les bons temps rouler! Trust me — the good times in Orlando were plentiful and memorable.
A special shout-out to my supplier panelists who shared their secrets for success (and mistakes they’ve made along the way) with their supplier peers at a free luncheon on set-up day: World Wide’s Kim Newell; Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products’ C.J. Schmidt (huge congrats to Hit, this year’s ASI Supplier of the Year!); MediaTree’s Rob Watson; and Shepenco’s Dan Townes – all of whom were simply spectacular!
Were you in Orlando? Post a comment below sharing your favorite moment(s)! (You’ll see some of mine in the photos below…). Couldn’t make it to the show? Meet us in two weeks for the ASI Dallas Show, where we’ll keep the good times and optimism for the industry’s success in 2011 rolling!
Cheers, and more next week!
PS: If you will be at the ASI Dallas Show, check out my Education Day session on how to create effective, measurable self-promotion campaigns (Wednesday, 2/16, from 9:45-10:45 a.m.), with my superstar panelists Brad White, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 distributor Boundless Network, and Billy Booe, sales & self-promo guru at Bluegrass Promotions, one of Counselor’s fastest-growing distributor companies.
January 20, 2011
I’ve just returned from Europe, where I attended my favorite show of the year, PSI Dusseldorf. It is a HUGE event in the European ad specialty marketplace, where you’ll see trends that will have an impact on the North American industry in the coming year. Trust me: No one does packaging, fashion and design better than the Euros.
Optimism permeated the show floor, with business, sales and moods rebounding after two years of doom and gloom. The German Association of Promotional Products, for example, announced that sales of ad specialties in that country reached 3.43 billion euro ($4.61 billion US) in 2010, up from 2.97 billion euro ($3.99 billion US) in 2009. Another sign of good things to come? The European arm of Polyconcept, the world’s largest ad specialty supplier — PF Concept — once again held its grand party, which had been on hiatus for the past few years. Billed as “Imagine: The Party of the Century,” the fetewas back and better than ever, courtesy of Cees Martens, the Netherlands-based CEO of PF Concept International, with help from the supremely organized and capable Annette de la Rie, the Goddess of PF Concept. (See more on the party with tons of photos, below).
The PSI Show itself, the 49th annual event, is Europe’s largest ad specialty trade show. Held from 1/12-1/14, it showcased 849 exhibitors from 30 nations, covered 35,000 square meters of floor space in five halls, and drew 17,122 attendees, up from 16,464 last year. Michael Freter, PSI’s managing director, noted that while this year’s show numbers “are by no means record-breaking,” they do allow for “careful optimism.” “PSI is a barometer of public opinion … and reflects the performance of the manufacturers and distributors of promotional products,” Freter said. “The signs are positive that this year’s PSI Show will be carried by the current economic upswing.”
That sense of optimism for increased industry sales carried through to the show floor, with distributors and the heads of Europe’s largest suppliers, such as Polyconcept’s Chairman Philippe Varnier and Senator’s CEO Michael Nick, indicating increased sales in the second half of 2010 and high indicators for a successful 2011.
Product trends from the show floor include an emphasis on creative eco-friendly packaging, such as sports drinks in toothpaste-shaped tubes constructed of recycled material and vegan bags constructed from vegetables. Earth-based, rustic colors such as bark brown, pine green and leaf orange were the hues shown most prominently. Additionally, QR (Quick Response) codes are ubiquitous on the show floor, on suppliers’ booths, on attendee badges and exhibitor catalogs. Intermed Asia Ltd. attracted crowds to its booth with a video demonstration of a new application that allows logos to act like QR codes; by merely scanning a company’s logo on a bag or mug, for example, a client can launch additional promotional messages.
Next year’s PSI Dusseldorf Show — which, for the first time in years, won’t overlap with any U.S. show — will be held from January 11-13. I’ll be there, and would be happy to be your guide to the show and all the fun events, including an international reception to be hosted by ASI in the VIP Lounge of the convention center at the close of the first show day! From there, we’ll all go to PSI’s PHENOMENAL party at one of the best nightclubs in Dusseldorf. Trust me, it is quite the time. ; For more information about next year’s PSI Show, go to www.psi-network.de.
Cheers, and more next week from ASI’s Orlando Show!
If you’re a supplier who’s attending ASI’s Orlando Show, please join me for a free luncheon panel discussion on Sunday, 1/23, on the show floor from noon til 1:30 p.m. Take a break from setting up your booth to hear my panel of esteemed suppliers who’ve experienced growth in their businesses and are ready to share how they’ve done it: C.J. Schmidt, vice president of sales for Counselor Top 40 supplier Hit Promotional Products; Kim Newell, president of World Wide Lines Inc.; Rob Watson, president of MediaTree; and Dan Townes, owner of Shepenco.
January 6, 2011
Filed under: Personal
Hi Everyone and Happy 2011!
Hope you’re all having a great new year so far and looking forward to show season!
How were your holidays? I traveled to Florida to spend Christmas with my mom and stepdad, and had a few incidents happen that made me go “WTF?” (Why the Face?, in Modern Family parlance) and really contemplate what constitutes good customer service. I’m also in the midst of compiling the profiles on some of the industry suppliers who won this year’s Counselor Distributor Choice awards (to be announced at ASI’s Orlando Show on 1/23 – if you’re going to be there, join us for the awards celebration and cocktail party at 5:00 p.m. in room S320 of the Orlando Convention Center). What do they all have in common? Stellar, “save the day” customer service.
Here are two examples of craptacular customer service, from companies that could take a lesson from the award-winning suppliers in our industry.
1. TD Bank. As I was at the Philadelphia Airport two days before Christmas to fly to my mom’s house in Sanibel, Florida, I stopped at a McDonald’s to get coffee. I used my debit card, which was promptly declined. When I called TD Bank, with whom I do my banking and have credit cards, they informed me that my card had been cancelled due to “suspected fraudulent activity in Homer, Oklahoma.” According to the customer service person, Homer is a hotbed of identity and credit card theft. Who knew? I’m just guessing here that there’s not much to do in the thriving metropolis that is Homer, Oklahoma. Just sayin’.
Now, while I was thankful that the bank was vigilant in spotting the attempted fraud and shut down my credit card, couldn’t they have, you know, TOLD ME? As I explained to the customer service woman that I was ready to board a plane and would need a new card overnighted to me, she informed me that I’d have to “fax a handwritten letter” giving them authority to ship my new card to an address (my mom’s) that wasn’t my own. Couldn’t I e-mail an authorization to them, providing telling data to authenticate my identity? Nope. Ladies and gentleman, you’ve now met a business in the year of 2011 that “doesn’t accept e-mails.”
Brenda, the first in a long and undistinguished line of customer service people I dealt with, suggested — wait for it — that I find a fax machine AT THE AIRPORT and dash the letter off to them that way. Yes. Because the Rosetta Stone kiosk and the Relay magazine stand have fax machines at the ready. Clearly, Brenda doesn’t fly.
At this point I didn’t freak too much, because I was traveling to be with my family and knew they’d lend me cash, etc. But what if I wasn’t? What if this happened as I was boarding an international flight to Dusseldorf, as I will be next week? When I landed, my mom took me to an Office Max where I faxed (so archaic I might as well have used a chisel and a slate) the handwritten letter to TD Bank, who — as I called to confirm its arrival — assured me I’d get my new card the next day.
Long story short? I didn’t get my card until the following Tuesday — nearly a week – which is baffling to me in this day and age. I’ve gotten phones, flowers and shoes overnighted to me — but apparently a 2″ x 3″ piece of plastic is outside the realm of possibility. Those of you who know me can imagine how my demeanor steadily declined as I checked twice daily on the status of my card, each time speaking with a different supervisor — none of whom were “allowed” to give me their last name or direct phone number and all of whom gave me different information (“we never overnight cards,” “your card will be delivered today,” “your card is stuck in the snowstorm”). My favorite had to be when one customer service agent told me she couldn’t provide me with a tracking number “until the card was delivered.” Not a high point for my patience, I suggested she “take a moment of silence for the death of logic in that statement.” I was also so tired of repeating my personal information that I began to get more snarky than usual.
Customer Service Rep: “Can you spell ‘Sanibel’ for me?”
Bitchy, Exasperated Michele: “Sure! S as in Subpar, A as in Asinine, N as in Nonsensical, I as in Inept…”
The lessons to be learned here (which I enumerated in a letter to the president of TD Bank):
* Allow your customers to have direct access to customer service reps so they can deal with one person and not have to repeat their story again and again. It’s annoying and frustrating.
* Get everyone on the same page. I think the thing that made me the most incensed was that even reps at a supervisory level all had different answers for me. The message conveyed was confusion and distrust — not what a bank wants to put out there, I would think.
* It bears noting that every one of the 14 people I spoke with at TD Bank was extremely nice and empathetic. However, when you’re getting the runaround and incorrect information, nice only goes so far.
* Communicate clearly with customers when there is a problem. The main point of contention with me was that the bank never notified me that my credit card had been canceled — McDonald’s did. The numerous reps apologized for this oversight and said I “should have been contacted immediately.” Shoulda Woulda Coulda. Follow through on your methods of operation.
* Let Brenda out of the office to visit an airport, for the love of God.
As an amusing little epilogue, when the credit card so guarded and protected by the bank that it was like The Grail finally did arrive at my mom’s house via FedEx, I was neither required to sign for it nor show identification. Kid. You. Not.
2. Southwest Airlines. Truly, Southwest is one of my favorite U.S. companies. Its employees are cordial and kooky, they don’t charge for baggage and still offer complimentary beverages and snacks. And you’ve just got to love a company that was started by a genius, loony libertine (Herb Kelleher) on the back of a cocktail napkin while drinking a snoot-full of Scotch. However…
While in Sanibel and dealing with the credit card clusterduck over at TD Bank, a wicked snow storm socked the East Coast, causing my flight back to Philly to be canceled. Now, I fly enough that disruptions like this do not even phase me and I was able to go back to my mom’s house for two more days. The quandary? As I had already checked my bag for the flight that was ultimately canceled, no one at Southwest could tell me where my bag was — still on the plane, sitting at the Fort Myers airport or on its way to Philly. What I find interesting is that these days (creepily) you can track anyone and anything with technology. Except my Louis Vuitton bag, which was apparently sneaky enough to avoid detection.
The lesson for Southwest? You guys are amazing at practically everthing you do… Perhaps you should focus as much on your technology as you do on your people.
That’s it, I’m all bitched out. Despite these events, I had an awesome Christmas and am ready to start traveling for show season — just not to Homer, Oklahoma. ; )
Do you have a customer service story that sent you off the rails or restored your faith in humanity? Post a comment!
Cheers, and more next week from the PSI Dusseldorf Show!