Keep your promises. Your reputation depends on it.

This philosophy was embedded into my head early on in childhood.

My parents built a successful machine shop/parts business with the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, but most importantly, by dealing with their customers openly, honestly and they always – without fail – kept their word.

My parents work ethic is insane, and part of me is glad that gene lives within me (of course, the other part curses it as I want to blow everything off and lounge by the pool). If my dad promised a motor would be built by a certain date, it was, even if it meant working nights and/or weekends to get it done on time. If they quoted a project and it somehow came in more expensive, my mom made good on the original quote.

Dale-Melody

My parents knew their customers depended on having accurate, trustworthy information and they built a reputation on keeping their promises, and their customers responded positively. My parents owned their business for 30+ years, and were one of the busiest, and dare I say, one of the most profitable machine shops in the area.

They showed me the importance of earning the trust of your customers and building a reputation you can be proud of.

I could not have had better mentors.

I love you mom and dad.

Happy 94th birthday gramps!

Heuer and I took a quick trip to Miami last week to spend some time with his grandpa who is turned 94 on April 29th.

Little bugger is moving a little slower these days, but as feisty as ever.

Grandpa's 94th Birthday - 18

Was great to see Tony (Heuer’s cousin” and his kids while there and getting four generations of family in a photo (gramps, Heuer’s uncle Jack, Heuer and Tony, and Tony’s kids). Lots of testosterone in the room. :)

Flexing our Road Tripping Skillz

I love taking road trips. Packing up the car. Filling up the tank (ok, I don’t really love this part of the road trip). Getting our ‘mix tape’ together. Putting the pedal to the medal and exploring all that this fine planet of ours has to offer.

The last couple of years have found Heuer and I in planes more than cars, so I love it when the road trip presents itself…

When we were offered the opportunity to host the Ultimate Blogger Dinner (UBD) with Lenovo during CES, we started evaluating all the equipment we needed to bring for the event (cameras, light kit for video shoots, recorders, collateral, extension cords, power strips, etc.) and realized quickly it would be a huge pain in the ass flying with it all.

We needed to drive to Vegas, and Heuer’s Cherokee was not going to be big enough. Did I mention I needed to pack shoes too?

So we jumped on the horn with our pal Scott Monty over at Ford, and threw out the idea of us taking their just released Ford Flex for an extended road test.

Scott made a few calls and the day before we were scheduled to leave for CES, a cinnamon colored 2009 Ford Flex was sitting in my driveway just begging to have its tires kicked. Awesome.

SMC Road Trip to CES2009

My initial thought of the truck (sorry Scott, I have a hard time calling it a ‘cross over’ vehicle even though I get why its classified as that) was how much it looked like the big brother to the Mini Cooper Clubman. Nice. Heuer and I have talked about buying me a Mini Cooper once my Lexus finally bites the dust, so already the Flex was winning me over in the aesthetics department.

Next test – capacity. The Flex has three rows of seats and can sit seven (7) people comfortably. We put all the seats down and packed six suitcases into the back of the Flex along with a small cooler and a bag of snacks for the road. And you know what? It all fit, with room to spare. Sweet.

We were ready to hit the road.

I wanted to drive the first leg of the trip to give Heuer a chance to play with the Sync system and get familiar with all the gadgets so he could then train me. LOL. Side note: Heuer and I have an understanding that if we were ever to be accepted in the Amazing Race series, I would be the primary driver so he could man the maps and the gadgets. It always works best that way as even though I think I have a sense of direction…I really don’t. I am meant to drive…so I do.

I settle in behind the wheel, immediately noticing how ‘sedan like’ it felt. To me, this is a good thing as if given the choice between driving a sedan or a SUV full time, I will always pick a sedan for shear comfort. The Flex really scores on this level.

We head South…

About an hour into the trip, Heuer discovered the USB port AND the electric outlet in the middle console. Who ever added that into the product plan is a genius. Seriously. Every new car should have this capability. So.Damn.Smart.

Now here comes more information than you probably wanted to know:

Along the way, we stopped in Santa Nella for Andersen’s famous split pea soup (a Wells family favorite pit stop), in Kettleman City for a really crappy pot roast (took two bites, gagged, paid the bill and left), and ‘harassed’ some sheep on the side of the road. Each time we stopped, folks mentioned what a sharp looking truck we had. No lie. The barista at the drive through coffee shop, the older couple at the split pea joint, the attendant at the gas station. I will admit, it was kind of cool to have something so bright and shiny at my control.

And each time we stopped, Heuer asked if it was time to change drivers and each time he heard the same thing, no. I enjoyed driving the Flex and was not ready to turn the keys over to him. It handled well. It was comfortable. And after six hours behind the wheel, I was not tired…so we carried on.

I ended up driving all 12 hours of the trip to Vegas (did I mention it was a smooth ride?) and when we arrived at the hotel, the valet sized up the truck, and again – all positive comments. We drove the Flex all week in Vegas, and I will say it continued to receive high marks from everyone we met. When we were transporting a couple of our friends home from a party, there were sounds of glee from the back as they both found the heat button for their seats. I know this is such a simple option, but it is again a sign of a thoughtful designer.

When Heuer and I started plotting our trip back home, we decided to extend it one more day and see how the Flex felt about the Ocean. It liked it. At least, it felt like it liked it as it handled the flat roads of 1-15 as well as it did the hills of Route 223/I-5. Smoothly. And who was behind the wheel? That’s right. Me.

Road Testing the Ford Flex

We met up with our Social Media Club Los Angeles crew and had a wonderful brunch in Malibu. After filling our bellies we contemplated hanging out in Los Angeles for a day, but realized after being on the road for a week – we were ready to head home. So we packed ourselves back into the truck and headed North.

I do think it important to note that Heuer did, in fact, get to drive the Flex. We were about three hours from San Francisco on the return home when I finally turned the keys over to him. I was tired. Vegas has finally caught up to me. And you know what? The passenger seat was as comfortable as the drivers seat.

I will admit I was sad to return the truck back to Ford the next day as I surely could have kept driving it longer.

I will say the ‘real world’ experience driving the Flex really turned my views of Ford around as I come from a Ford loving clan (the ones I can remember – as there were more – are two Broncos, a Ranger, a F150, two Mustangs, a Thunderbird and a couple of Jaguars) and my entire family strayed years ago due to one reason or another, mostly technical/ performance based. My last Ford was the 1990 Thunderbird SC that I turned in after 18 months due to transmission issues that could never be fixed – in shop four times. I think it important to note this as when talking about buying new cars, Ford has not been top of mind for me for 18 years.

The Flex really put them back on the map for me.

Heuer and I chatted at length on the way home as to whether or not we would consider purchasing the Flex, and both agreed we would, if (1) we had kids (or dogs, which is more likely) as it is too big for just the two of us and (2) we did not live in San Francisco where parking is tough (though not impossible) for a large[r] vehicle. The Flex just isn’t practical for us [today], but would be cool to rent if we headed to Tahoe or wanted to take a road trip with a few friends in tow. I want to drive this truck again.

I do think it is brilliant for Ford to put every day people in their cars and let them live life for a bit. They will naturally win with some and not with others, but overall, smart marketing on their part. It also shows confidence in their product as people will normally find something they don’t like after they ‘drive it off the lot’. When they don’t – you should pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

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I linked to a bunch in this post, but if you would like to see more photos of our trip, check out my photo stream and Heuer’s too.

A day in the life of a mystery shopper…

Disclosure: Heuer was given a $500 gift card from Izea on behalf of their client, Sears, to participate in their campaign and “grant a wish” for someone (turned out to be me) then to share the experiences shopping at the retail store. There is also a contest you can enter with details on Heuer’s blog to grant perhaps one or more of your wishes. From our perspective, we see this as getting paid to provide our feedback more then getting paid to write a blog post (or two now), but as we have seen over the last few days with regards to Chris Brogan and his involvement in the K-Mart campaign, everyone has their own perspective.

Sears Grant A Wish Program

I won’t fib, I had mixed feelings around the Sears gift card, Izea and the kerfuffle it could cause – however – I thought it was worth the ‘risk’ knowing Heuer and I know could be completely open and honest about our experience (whether it was good or bad) – so we jumped in the car and headed to Sears to try and grant my Christmas wish for a karaoke machine and a Wii. Now mind you, I don’t shop normally at Sears, but being in a couple of their stores in the past, I did have some idea of what to expect.

I won’t go into details here about what we did, what we bought and our overall experiences as Heuer spells it all out extremely well in his post, and while we didn’t end up with anything we set out for, I have to say I loved the ‘mystery shopper’ aspect of it. I had done something like this before for my sister’s business where I was sent out anonymously to 10+ retail stores and report back on my experiences with her personnel and the overall atmosphere of each location. The only difference to me between my sister’s project and the one from Sears, is we got to keep the items we purchased at Sears. Sure that makes for a pretty big difference, but as long as we can share our experiences openly and honestly, I don’t see why that should change the value of our posts. I love having the opportunity to crawl inside a business, evaluate their products and services and the expertise of their employees and then provide feedback – all in an attempt to ensure a pleasurable experience for everyone. In fact, I think that is why I pick the roles I do in my career as they are all related to listening to our customers and finding ways to better the relationship.

So I am happy we did it, and hope we get more opportunities in the future to dig into someone’s business like this. Being a simple observer can get you a bit of information, being an actual consumer opens up a whole lot more to you to evaluate. And for me – it doesn’t matter whether they allow me to keep the items I purchased, or paid me a flat fee to experience this all first hand – it is compensation for feedback and as my prior employers can tell you – I don’t hold anything back.

I would be curious to know the reaction from people had our experiences been different and we gave Sears a glowing response. Would our community trust that information? I would hope so as Heuer and I have spent our careers building reputations we can be proud of and are not the type to add a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down any easier. We strive to live openly and honestly in everything we do – work included – so when we share our experiences, we expect people to believe in it.

Best practices for Social Media Marketing

My girl Sally Strebel tagged me in a little project started by Mitch Joel to state what we think are some of the best practices for Social Media Marketing.

Heuer and I were just talking about this topic as we reviewed a chapter he is writing for his upcoming book The Social Media Playbook [note to self, we need to get Wiley to design a new cover - stat] and I could list several practices I think are key to any Marketing campaign (Be Open, Be Transparent, Be Responsive, Be Aware…etc), but there is one practice that stands above all others:

BE HUMAN

What does ‘being human‘ really mean? For me, it is exposing enough of yourself so people know who they are speaking/dealing with, and can feel confident in the communications they receive from you. It is showing compassion to those around you and talking to them as human beings – not as customer #8609 or member #10,356.

Humans by nature crave personal contact and companies who allow their employees to ‘be human’ will build tighter relationships with their customers, which I believe, will lead to a stronger brand overall (look at Dell, Zappos and Comcast who realized this and are seeing the benefits from it now). Don’t send me to an automated call center where pushing ’0′ keeps me in an infinite technical loop. Give me the option to push ’0′ and speak to someone live. Give me a name, some background, some reason to bond with your company. Odds are good I will be/become a happy customer because you did.

I believe I am so successful in roles I fill is because I live by this philosophy. My clients know me. They know what my role in the company is and what I stand for. They know when I tell them something, they can believe it. It doesn’t matter who I work for – they can trust me because they know me. Granted, I live my life a little more openly than some, but also tend to have stronger relationships with people because of it. This is a powerful thing (when used for good of course). Companies who allow me to ‘be human’ in my interactions will reap the benefits because your customers will know there is someone willing to put her reputation on the line to make sure your customer walks away from the transaction – happy. I do this because you trust me to be me, and I respect you for that. Therefore, I am going the extra mile to ensure your customer respects you too. Everyone wins here.

I would love to hear thoughts you all as well as those from Heuer, Jackie, Jake, Todd and Shel (keeping with the meme to tag five people).