12/260 What's your CX XP?

Meaningful customer service

If you’ve ever worked with Brutal Pixie, you know that we are mad on customer experience. It’s entirely because I’m a little bit obsessed by it. Today I’m going to tell you why, and then, as promised last week, I’m going to give you a bit of an insight into what it means for the next few Pixie years.

Here’s why I’m obsessed by customer service

My obsession with customer service started long before I even knew I had one. I remember that my very first paid job - which was pulling fuel at a petrol station - made customer service paramount. My training was not just to make the place run efficiently, but to do so while also making everyone happy.

I had ad hoc training after that. In a hardware shop, where I learned how to make customers feel valuable even when they made ridiculous and laughable mistakes. In a Red Cross shop, where I learned the impact of environment on purchasing. In a clothing shop in a tourist town, where I learned the value of both good questions (for tourists) and a good memory (for locals). In journalism, where I learned interrogation and negotiation. And in a call centre, where it all came together with lessons about the nature of product and the ritual in people’s lives.

This was all back when customer experience was a load of wank, and your job, my job, everyone’s job, was to turn customers into loyal customers.

The very best managers I ever had, the very best trainers, taught me not just how to serve customers. They taught me how to listen, how to engage, how to solve problems by myself, how to make damned sure that I took every opportunity to make someone’s day brighter - even if they were calling in the darkest fit of rage imaginable, and would have preferred to flay me and my family.

Add a splash of continuous improvement narrative all through my teenage years thanks to my dad, and an intense dislike (as a consumer) of sub-par, reactive, brainless service, and here we are.

The customer experience of people interacting with the web industry is pretty rough.

It was clear to me very quickly after launching Brutal Pixie that the attention people pay to customers in digital agencies is (on average) poor. It was when we began, and it still is.

It’s SEO companies sending the same emails every month and only changing a few numbers. It’s people who can’t be reached. It’s digital advertisers who take loads of money and spout a bunch of jargon words and eat all your money. It’s marketers who walk in and ‘apply’ a method without asking any questions. It’s web developers who promise the world and never deliver - because they can’t.

I know this because we have a disproportionate number of customers who have been burned. The number of people who come to us bitching about all the other agencies they’ve ever worked with is astonishing. They’re agencies all over the country, of all kinds. Typically, we get them when they’re jaded, sour, burned, disappointed, sore, and at the end of their budgetary allowance.

Our customers regularly tell us how we’re the only agency they’ve ever worked with that gives a shit about their product and/or service.

And if that isn’t a damning reflection of an industry, I don’t know what is.

I designed the customer service processes at Brutal Pixie in such a way that our customers are inside the work every single week. They know exactly what’s going on, when things are done, how it’s going, and what’s coming next. They have the opportunity to shape the work. It stops them emailing us.

The reason it works is because it was built on an understanding of the psychology of spending, fear, and value; the laws of simplicity; and human behaviours.

More recently, I’ve been paying attention to the onboarding sequences, so that they deliver the same warm, happy feelings that the service delivery does. In its current iteration it’s almost right. How do I know? Because people started mentioning it, and then asking if we can help them do it too.

Who’s in charge of your customer experience?

You know, the number of people I know who are CX experts, or CX designers, and they’ve never worked in the hard, cold face of obsessive customer service, is huge. I’m baffled about how they even understand what it means.

I have a strong attitude that the best place to learn the fundamentals of customer service is at the coalface of a luxury product. By ‘luxury’, you understand me to mean ‘not essential to life’. My training was in newspapers. I had the kind of training that taught me how non-essential products become the centre of rituals in people’s lives; that it’s the disruption of the ritual that causes them to freak out. I’ve dealt with suicide threats, violence threats, customers stalking suppliers. I’ve dealt with the serially angry person, the crying person, the person who feels that they’ve been abandoned and left alone, the person who feels that nobody cares and that this is the end. of. everything. Seriously, if you can negotiate with people like that and get results, then you can do anything.

The challenge is moving from the coalface and into design. When you’re in front of customers all the time, it’s easy to understand them. But if you’re in the back-end somewhere, you never deal with customers much, and you’re designing customer service (XP), how the fuck do you do it? Yeah you can run studies but it is never the same thing. You have to experience it in order to know how to solve it.

The experience gets you inside the minds of others, shows you the problems, forces you to think on your feet, makes the gaps and issues obvious.

Which is why I love hearing about companies that force every single person to spend time on the front-line, including the senior executive.

How the Pixie’s customer service will change over the next four years.

While our customer service processes are pretty good right now, they could be better. I have a personal mission to make Brutal Pixie’s customer experience the best in the market.

It’s so important I’m going to repeat that, and emphasise it in bold. Brutal Pixie’s customer experience will be the best in the market.

Making a commitment like this isn’t an idle matter. It means intense scrutiny over every component of the moments in our customers’ interactions with us. Which ones are proactive? Which reactive? What questions do we get that we should never get? Which ones do we answer more than twice? Where is the process not transparent? How available are we?

The challenge is not to overdo it. And not to disregard it in favour of something else, like meeting new people.

For the past four years we have been the kings of over-servicing, going above and beyond to the point where we were doing way more than we ought to have been, and not being paid for it.

Great service is a balancing act. Once you have a luxurious service in place, it doesn’t matter if you don’t over-service, because people don’t notice. If everything is buttery smooth, velvety soft, and happens just at the perfect time, then a service feels like magic.

We’re pixies. Magic is in our blood.

In 2019, my drive for developing the service aspects of Brutal Pixie even further will be augmented by compressed working hours, in just four days per week. This is my cue to plug my Patreon account - which, in the first week of January will be 1 year old. Everyone who is a patron on 7 January 2019 will be given visibility over the positive changes that taking a day out every week can have on your business; existing patrons who upgrade will get some cool stuff, too. But you can sign up and learn more about that here.

Outstanding service doesn’t mean being on 24/7. It means designing the experience from end to end, and making sure that how people describe you is intentional. It takes a bit of effort to get from intentional design to consistent provision, but it’s possible.

Actually, it’s more than possible. In society as it stands, it might be the only thing that makes you a success.

11/260 Incredible discoveries

... and silly mistakes

Howdy!

You’ll remember that last week I was talking about lifestyle design. Well, the trend has continued for the past week.

What you might not know is that lately I’ve been in a downward, depressive spiral about business life in general. This has partly been because of a unique health issue, but largely because things just haven’t been … right. Bank account depleting, invoices not being paid, and one customer flat-out ignoring every single form of communication. (Which, for me, is just baffling.)

In fact, I got down to the last operational $800. My last pay was half of what I needed personally. I started applying for jobs, because cashflow comes before everything else. Thus, I’ve been pruning. I brought all the work back to the centre, got rid of anything that isn’t essential, wished our contractors a happy summer, and focused on what I needed to do to get happy.

You’ll remember from last week that getting happy meant, first, understanding that I’m into mastery - not scale. This week it’s meant actively shaping my daily/weekly life to give mastery space in which to be cultivated. It applies to my creative life more than to my business life, but the two overlap and intersect. It means more time writing books, more time thinking, more time theorizing and writing research.

Now, why is this worth telling you about? Because this focus, inside a structure and processes that do scale, means that I can relax and enjoy myself.

You just can’t put a price on that. It is unbeatable. It reminded me of this post by Carlos at the Happy Startup School, in which he talks about how the phrase lifestyle business has become a dirty word, when it’s actually the greatest thing ever.

But I have a story to tell you about an insane, happy discovery.

This week, I was shuffling along on my downcast, introverted way, doing my thing. Pieces started to fall into place just perfectly. As I was focused on, and beginning to bring myself back up into the sunshine, I made the most insane discovery.

I learned that since moving banks, money had been going into our old accounts.

Because I was 100% sure that I’d updated every system, I hadn’t checked.

Then I did for some reason.

I discovered, when I was down to my last operational $800, unable to pay my rent, with bills outstanding, after having applied for a fistful of jobs for cashflow-boosting-purposes, that I had thousands of dollars that Practice Ignition had been happily squirrelling away for me.

It not only paid all my bills this week, but will pay them for the next couple of months even if nobody else pays me.

I was so shocked, surprised, amazed, relieved, happy, (insert other adjectives here), that I froze. I couldn’t even clap or yell or laugh. It was FUCKING AMAZING.

Here’s how the conversation rolled on Twitter when Global Head of Accounting & Strategic Partnerships at Practice Ignition, Trent McLaren, saw what I’d tweeted:

Best thread of the year? Best FEELING of the year!

The thing is: You’re always at risk of something like this when you’re in business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer, if you’re new, or if you’ve been around the block. It is always a possibility.

As for me, it’s taught me to look after myself and nurture what I really need in order to be happy. You’ll see in the tweets (above) that I said 2019 will be kick-ass. Now that I know the real reason why I’m in business, it can’t possibly be otherwise.

We see loads of writers about business and entrepreneurialism talk about putting your own oxygen mask on first. We all nod and smile and talk about it to each other.

Well let me tell you something about that.

Putting on your own oxygen mask first actually means:

  1. Knowing that if you died tomorrow, not one thing would change. The sun will rise, the birds will sing, your clients will continue, your family will continue, your business will hit a speed-bump but probably not stop. The only thing that won’t continue is you. When you feel this in your belly, what does it change about where you put your focus?

  2. Understanding the deep reason why you’re in business. We all want to make an impact, but business isn’t always the way. For example, I have a focused 100-year-plan. The way I’m getting the plan to first base is through writing fiction, not running a business.

  3. Actively and mindfully designing your life. It means working out how many hours per day you want to work, what you’ll do with the time you’re not working, and how your happiest, most perfect days will run. It means knowing that you have many roles and knowing that each one of them gets attention in a day, and balanced attention in a week.

  4. Saying no. It’s not going to social events when you can’t People any more. It’s saying no to people who want favours. It’s letting your family sort out their own dinner because, frankly, you want to eat your chocolate and read a book instead of shopping or cooking or ordering pizza.

  5. Taking time to help someone other than yourself, and doing it from a perspective of joy and love. Being compassionate is what breathes air into your life, and it nourishes you as much as the other party. Help, in this case, isn’t about ‘doing things for others’, but applying action where it will genuinely help someone who needs assistance. It might be as simple as smiling at a stranger.

These are just five “simple” things. They’re simple, but sometimes it’s not until we hit a wall that we do them.

Right, so there’s Leticia’s soapbox for the week! Phew - what a rollercoaster ride!

I can hardly believe we’re already nearly 3 months into our next 5 years. Next week I’m going to share with you some of my thoughts about customer experience, and how this is likely to change at Brutal Pixie in the coming four-and-three-quarter years.

If you love reading this, I encourage you to give a gift subscription to someone else. It’s nearly the gifting time of year, so if my sprawling words inspire you, it would be amazing to inspire someone else too. :)

Give a gift subscription

10/260 Finding joy in the process

Because life is too short otherwise

Somewhere on the edge of the world, everything that you perceive fades into an interdeterminate, soft, deckled edge. As you trip towards the edge of the known space, flakes of the solid world crack and fall away, floating into the space, layered pieces of paper torn from a greater whole. You come upon it all of a sudden, find yourself leaning forward with momentum while frantically stopping yourself at the edge and windmilling your arms backwards to prevent yourself from falling.

Somewhere out there is the answer that you’re after. Somewhere in that deep, blue nothing is the key to what you think you’re trying to achieve. But the fragile edges terrify you and you’d rather not risk the entire foundation underneath you falling away.

So you don’t do it. You back away until you feel safe, and sit down.

Rummaging around in your pockets for something to eat, or drink, or distract you from things, you sit and ponder. Doing so, you find a small piece of paper. You don’t remember putting anything in your pocket. Puzzled, you pull it out and unfold it.

Pay attention.

Baffled, you screw it up into a little ball and throw it away from you. It seems like a futile gesture; it didn’t go very far. But as you watched, it unrolled itself, tore itself into little pieces and formed itself into something else.

Ahhh, you think. I know what this is.

Picking it up, you walk over to the edge space and lean forwards. And then you go.


This is not a random story, something I just concocted. Over the past 10 weeks I’ve been writing to you about all kinds of crazy, amazing, and introspective things.

This week, I made a decision about Brutal Pixie, and about my role in the business. That decision is that scaling this business is not in my cards. You’ve probably worked that out by following me along so far. I’ve decided that there’s more power and more joy in staying micro.

There are many reasons for this decision, and they might be important for you to understand. More important is for me to take off this gigantic weight that has been squeezing me and weighing me down.

Back in 2013 when I started the business, it happened because getting a job in Adelaide proved damned near impossible for me every time I tried it. I couldn’t be bothered. Then I had an opportunity, so I chased it. It paid off, and I kept going afterwards.

The Pixie has always been a solution looking for a problem. This is exactly why building the brand and the business has been such an epic amount of work. There’s been a lot of discovering where the puzzle pieces go, because I didn’t understand it right in the beginning.

This is why it’s been so much more difficult than scaling Metal as Fuck for example. With that, I knew the market intimately; I understood the opportunities; promoting it was relatively effortless.

But Pixie? It emerged from a freelancing option, and was never a solution. It’s been more about ego and meeting other people’s expectations.

More critically, however, I’ve realised in the past week that I care more about my lifestyle and my wellbeing than how many people I employ. I care more about mastery than becoming a slave to always chasing more, more, more, more, more business. I care more about my happiness and my impact than about a giant footprint.

Now. This doesn’t mean that I’m shedding all of the brilliant people and systems around me. It just means that I’m letting go of the idea that I need to grow it. For now, with great systems in place, and a great team of contractors, I’m able to relax and just focus on the work.

Because it’s the work that makes me happy. It’s working on the things that reinforce my own development towards mastery that make me happy.

So this week I’ve been thinking about lifestyle design, production scheduling and timing in 2019, and what that looks like. I’ve been chewing on ideas and marketing plans for development; new products; new services; potential pricing shifts; the whole shebang.

Letting go of the subacute stress that I’ve been carrying for five years is proving to be an absolute boon, too. I’ve found that I am getting my mojo back, having filled pages in my notebooks with really brilliant (and relevant) ideas. Ideas are the yardstick of health in my life. :)

Sometimes you have to go right to the edge, and step away from the things that you know, are comfortable with, and are expected to do, and just forge your own way.

9/260 The beauty of friends

... with mad skills

Welcome to The Next Five Years! If you’ve just joined us - as I know a few people have in the past week - we’re in the ninth week of this open business experiment.

Today, I want us all to think about the beauty of having friends with mad skills.

In the past week, I have gained the benefit of having friends in a whole range of places. I’m going to tell you what they are, what I’ve learned from it, and what’s next.

First: Working in new spaces

The first was being able to spend a week working out of Brick+Mortar Coworking in Norwood, for the Coworking South Australia Association’s Roving Writer project. This was super fun. I discovered my friends at Seated Massage working from the space, and had a great time talking to Elizabeth (who runs B+M) about how the space has changed, and what she’s learned doing it. Once my piece is published at Coworking South Australia, I’ll share it with you guys.

What I learned from working here

For ages I’ve had this experiential blockage. Yes, I can work from anywhere. But the reality is that I tend to work in the same places, that I build routines and preferences for locations (like my home office). Then, going outside of those places is challenging for my level of comfort.

This issue really dawned on me this week. Hence, I spent time focusing on unravelling it, and being effective in a new, noisy, location. It worked, I worked, shit still got done, and I had a great time doing it.

From here in, my focus is on just getting in the flow, no matter where I am. The issue isn’t the location, it’s whether you actually do the work.

Second: Building sales funnels

The second was spending time with John Kiama, a friend of mine with an insane passion for building lead funnels and automation. I met John about five years ago, when we were working out of Majoran Coworking together. John is a developer by trade, but he’s happier building funnels and automating businesses.

While I am good at advising others on how to do these things, I find it hard to apply them to my own business. So I did what I tell others to do: I asked for help. John was kind enough to gift me some of his time and expertise.

I spent a couple of hours this week with John, smashing out some ideas for adding value to people and building the bridge from awareness to sales. It was fantastic and I am super glad I did. We’re going to have a second session in the coming week. Once we’ve done that, I’ll have a crystal clear plan for putting it all together and making it fly.

What I learned, and what happens next

In working through my products and sales under John’s close questioning, I realised that my own work in this area has been scattershot. Yes, I have clarity about who I’m selling to and why. No, I haven’t built the sequence that (a) delivers value to that person, and (b) encourages them to work with me.

In a sense, I’ve built a fabulous offering but haven’t been selling it.

My next step is to pull the threads together into a coherent whole, so that the pathway is really clear for people. John’s going to help me work out the best way to do that, and then to automate as much as I can to remove the heavy lifting.

Third: Finalising the first impression

The third was going shopping, with a style consultant friend. This friend, Silvana Patrick, has decades of corporate, international experience in image and style consulting. So I asked her to design my corporate look.

What I wanted it to reflect included:

  • the industries that I work in

  • the styles of all of the most powerful people in my industries (and yes, I did spend time researching them and building a lookbook)

  • my own unique style

  • comfort!

    It also had to be simple enough that it doesn’t require dry cleaning, because urgh.

Silvana spent time with me to understand both me and the business, then went away and designed the outcome. And then she took me shopping.

Now, I am not a woman who spends her time clothes shopping. I was surprised to find women doing this for leisure on a Friday afternoon (yeah, yeah, I know). To be comfortable with it, I had to put my feelings completely on hold and just trust her. And then to be willing to have piles of clothes thrust at me while I tried them on.

But the outcome is a stylish, flattering, professional capsule wardrobe that will travel, that is polished, and comfortable, and frankly amazing.

What I learned - and what comes next

Working with Silvana has been part of taking the business seriously. This year I have found myself absolutely agonising about what to wear when meeting with prospects: Is it too formal or not formal enough? Is it too conservative? Was it comfortable? Was it me enough? I found myself hating my corporate dresses, resenting my suits, and then not having anything between those and my long boots and Deceased shirts. I was guessing, constantly, and never knowing what kind of impression I created.

What I’ve learned from Silvana is that it’s ok to be your own style, and have your own quirks. But that you have to have certain elements and a set of colours to work with. Like, did you know that pointed-toe shoes give your outfit the polish it needs to fly in business? No, I didn’t either. Cue wearing shoes I would never naturally buy.

Brand messages are sent in so many ways: Clothing is one of them, particularly if you’re out in public, at events, meeting new people, pitching new business, etc. Being ad-hoc about it sucks. My next step of this is to finalise the capsule wardrobe, buy some more shoes to finish it off, and go get a tailor to fix up some shirts. Then, we rock.

Fourth: Step one of higher visibility

The final thing I did this week was talk to my friends at Online Path about running a 30-day, digital ad campaign in some new territories to test an offering.

The campaign is going to require a small commitment of about $1,000 over the course of a month, and we’re going to kick it off in January 2019, to run in three cities simultaneously.

Then, whichever territory has the best uptake is the area in which we’re going to focus our sales activity.

Now, I could do this myself instead of getting them to do it. But they have the expertise in digital advertising - not me. They know how to build it, how to run it, how to optimize it. They understand my business (we’ve worked together, and they’ve worked with our clients too). And I trust their outcomes.

The timing is great, too. There’s enough time to get the Pixie content and funnels sorted out before the campaigns run, and then the campaign will test not only the territories but also the effectiveness of the sales funnels.

What I learned, and what’s next

What I learned from these guys is actually how granular is my business and its offerings. In terms of historical search activity, you have to go super broad to get any indicative outcomes. I’ve learned that the pitch and the funnel together is what is going to work to qualify those who come through from the campaign, particularly if we go broad with the campaign.

The next thing for me to do is to pull it together and make it fly.

So, in a sense, this week has felt a lot like I haven’t done a great deal to move things forward. But reflecting on it here, I realise that I have done a whole lot to get the right foundations in place.

I just have to keep remembering that you have to walk before you can run.

In summary

For the past five years, I’ve been working alongside many of the people I have mentioned above. I’ve helped them out, I’ve given them advice. I’ve been someone to give feedback, catch up for coffee. And you know, if you’re a giver, then after a while you start to feel like you’re the giving one, all the time.

But that only happens until you ask for help. Then, when you ask for help from your friends with mad skills, you find that all of your help comes back to you. It comes back to you in surprise freebies, offers, or discounts. It comes back to you in the deep quality of the services or advice you get in return.

In short: Nothing you give out is ever for nothing. Never begrudge the value that you give to others, because if they’re the right people for you, then those friends (the ones with mad skills) you go to for help, will bring it back to you tenfold.

8/260 Nobody's gonna die

An unexpected week off

G’day!

I’ve spent this week in bed.

Last week I worked three days, ahead of a family reunion, which I talked to you about last week in an excited blather. Far out, I was so excited my letter didn’t even make sense. So THANKS for still being here! Ha!

On my first day back at work, things went kinda screwy. I had to return a hire car, first up. So I did that - no biggie. Went to the bus stop, waited 40 minutes. Get on the bus, metrocard had been cancelled. I’m not actually a non-paying deviant, but had moved banks and there was a problem with a recharge. I’d secretly hoped that the last (unbanked) recharge would still be on it. (Wishful thinking.) I got off the bus with a sigh, had an amazing customer service experience at the Adelaide Metro desk (for real, it was brilliant), and then stood in line. Again.

By the time I got back to my office it was noon, and I was failing hard. Razorblades for a throat, sweaty, light-headed.

So I figured I’d go with the flow. I did some of the most critical stuff when I got back, and then I bailed and went to bed.

I stayed there until Saturday.

This week I’ve messaged my team on Slack, and got no replies. I don’t know if they’re looking at it. My new guy is enthusiastic but, as all newbies are, taking forever to get up to speed. (Wouldn’t it be nice if all new people turned up and suddenly knew everything? Imagine!)

One of our clients has put their contract on hold in December and January. It’s a really sensible decision for them, not so good for our cashflow.

Wailing about all of this thoughout the week, because when I’m sick everything is way more terrible than usual, and I am clearly a failure lol, my accountant said, 'Chin up! Tomorrow’s a good brain day!’ (Isn’t she awesome?). My husband said just two words: ‘Keep going.’

Then when my dad expressed his surprise that I was unwell and took the entire week off, my only response was:

‘Who cares, really? Nobody’s gonna die.’

And this brings me to the point of this week’s letter. My company doesn’t deal with people facing imprisonment. We don’t work in healthcare of any kind. We write content. We do things ahead of time, because that’s the only way to survive as a publisher. Ever met a publisher who has an idea and publishes it the same week? No, I didn’t think so.

Nobody is going to die if I have a week off.

Nobody is going to die if I don’t do any work while I’m sick.

Even if my business shut down tomorrow, nobody is going to be harmed. It would annoy people like fuck but they’d get over it. Someone else would fill the breach.

Work is not life. Health is life. Wellbeing is life.

So if you aren’t feeling 100%, and you don’t have an urgent deadline, take the damned day off. Enjoy it. Send photos of yourself at the beach (or in the bush, or sitting on your couch) to your clients, and ask them when they last had a day off.

Too many off us live as if we’re expected to be on 24/7. It’s killing us. It’s killing the planet. Find some love for yourself and your life, and step away from your work.

Maybe we could all learn a lesson from the French and have two months off in holidays every year. Life is a beautiful thing, so take the time to enjoy it while you can. Work never stops. But one day, you will.

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