This transcription belongs to Episode #33, please watch the complete episode here!
Morgan Friedman (Host): Hey everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of Client Horror Stories. We have a treat tonight with Tom Schwab who is here, and I’m drinking some whiskey because I know this story is going to be fun, and I am all ready for it.
How are you doing?
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): I am awesome, Morgan. Thrilled to be here.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s great. Now, let’s jump right in. I’m psyched to hear your exciting story. Tell me the horror story.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): It may not sound like a huge story to other people, but it was huge to me because it really struck at my heart of not wanting to disappoint people or not to think there’s an integrity breach that we promised more than we delivered.
So, what we deliver is we help thought leaders get on podcasts so they can get their message heard. So, people hire us. And so the onboarding went great. We got through it really quickly, and we got the person on a podcast, and we were thrilled. It was a top 5% podcast, and she was thrilled, and the interview was recorded right away.
I think it was a Monday. And so we’re all high-fiving each other. It’s like, “This is going great,” right? She’s gonna be happy. This is gonna work great for her. And then about Friday, I get this nasty, mad email where she is irate. And you know what, Morgan? She was irate because it was five days in here and no one from her podcast interview had visited her site, given her a lead, gotten any sales out of it, and she was just so mad because this is not what we talked about.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Not one.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And so she was mad and I felt awful. And I started to ask her questions, and I’m like, “Well, it was just recorded. No one’s heard it yet.” And she’s like, “Well, what do you mean?” I’m like, “This is a podcast, right? Five days into it, it’s the host and maybe the editor, right? They’ve got to record it, to edit it, to put it out there.”
And she was so disappointed. She’s like, “Well, I thought I would get results much quicker than this.” And I realized that it wasn’t her fault. She was mad, and she had every right to be mad because I didn’t explain it to her. She didn’t understand what podcasting was all about. She thought it was like radio, and as we started to talk about it, she got madder, right?
Don’t try calming somebody down. If they wanna be mad, let ’em vent. Let ’em be mad. Let them get it out of their system before you interrupt and try justifying yourself. So, as I tried to explain to her, “Well, this isn’t how podcasts work. It’s gonna take time.” And she’s like, “And I also was very upset because I was talking to the podcast and he said that he only got 10,000 downloads per episode. Why am I on such a small podcast?”
And at this point I’m blown away, right? Because she was on a podcast that was the top 5%. You know, the average podcast gets 150 downloads per episode. The top 1% get 35,000 right out of the gates. Man, we got her on a great one, and I asked her, “Well, why do you think that’s small?”
And she was very confident in her answer. She said, “Well, the other day, I was on a radio show, and it got 4 million listens.” And I was like, “Wow, that, that is a big show,” right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): No, it’s a lot.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): That’s a lot. And I said, “Well, what show was it?” And she goes, “Oh, I don’t know. It was something stationed out of Indianapolis.”
And at this point I’m going, “I think they had a reach of 4 million.” That meant everybody the signal went to was was counted in there. I said, “That’s not how many people were actually listening to you, or that’s not how many people were tuned into that station at that time.” And I said, “Here’s, you know, 10,000 people that weren’t listening to you. And the studies say that 70% listen to the entire thing.”
And I don’t think the data was helping me because it was an emotional argument that she had, not a data-driven one, and trying to solve a problem that you already made is tough, right? And as I look back on it, the biggest problem was is we didn’t communicate to her of what the timeline was gonna be, what the audience size was, what was typical, what to expect.
And so with that, we just let somebody else define what success was for her. And, you know, I could be mad and say, “Well, it wasn’t fair. She should have known that.” But she hired us because we’re the professionals. We should have told her. And if I would’ve said, “Well, it’s a crazy customer,” well then it gives her all the power, right? What could we do right to have avoided this problem in the first place? And it’s much easier, I realized there, to educate them and have that hard conversation at the beginning than when they call yelling.
So with that it was like, “We gotta change the things so that we educate them before that. And, you know, if we left that phone call, she was still mad. She had lost confidence in us. She wanted her money back. We had a six-month campaign that we had all set up for. We’d done all the background work for it and, you know, she wanted to cancel it after two weeks.
And I understood that. But I also was confident that she was gonna get great results from this. So I proposed this idea. I said, “You know, you’re supposed to be charged again in another couple of weeks.” I said, “I will not charge you again, but let’s touch base the day before that, and I promise you that if you are not happy, then I’ll not only not charge you, I’ll give you your money back” because, like I said, the thing that ate my soul was that she thought that I had lied to her, that we hadn’t delivered in advance. And the only thing we’ve really got in life is our reputation, right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): So, we left there, and I think she was very, very skeptical, right? But at least we had a plan. So, fast forward now, or probably 10 days later, the podcast episode actually went live, and what happened is just what I predicted, right? People heard her, they resonated with what she had to say. They came back to the website. They saw their web traffic go way up on that day. They saw the leads. They had calls that were scheduled, sales calls.
And it’s like, wow. It’s just like I predicted, except I didn’t give her the right timeframe on that, and that was on me.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Right.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): So she called and said everything is good. And it was great because it built the trust back up there. But I looked at it. There was quite a few things in there that I did that messed it up, right?
So, first of all, I didn’t educate the customer, and the more I thought about it, it’s like, the analogy that I could think in my mind was if I got cancer, the doctor gave me chemotherapy, and I come back two weeks later irate because my hair’s falling out.
Well, if I’ve never had it before, if I wasn’t familiar with that, of course I’d be mad, right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Very morbid metaphor.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Well, you know, it’s the same thing. It’s not something – you don’t have cancer every six months, so you don’t know. And I came to…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Hopefully we don’t have cancer every six months.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Well, and the other thing too is, you know, I don’t have that much hair. So, as it starts to fall out, that’s even worse, right? I came for you to cure my cancer, and you accelerated my baldness. This isn’t gonna work. But I looked at it there and thought, “I had a part in this in that I wasn’t clear.” I didn’t set that out.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Makes sense. So let’s talk about managing expectations upfront. You should have made that clear. It’s a good lesson. I think an interesting point is a challenge I’ve had many times is, I think I make it clear. I think I explain it, but the other side, the other person, just doesn’t get it.
So my instinct is you don’t need to only make it clear. You need to make it over-the-top clear. Things like you need to tell ’em verbally, then send it to them. Here’s a document in writing with the expectations, then remind them before the recording, “Hey, this isn’t live.” People have to be hit over the head in order for something to really resonate, including client expectations.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yes. And we started to use visuals in there too.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s a good one.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yeah, there’s this whole Gantt chart that says this is what happens at week one. This is what it’s gonna look like at week two. And it’s great because every conversation that we have, we go back and that conversation is a follow on to the previous one.
So in onboarding, it’s like, “Remember when you did your discovery call and your roadmap call, we talked about this? This is where we are in it right now.” And if it does come up where there’s a question of, “Well, I don’t remember that.” Instead of saying, “We told you. We told you.” Just pull up this slide that we showed him beforehand and say, “Remember when we talked about this?”
And sometimes we people won’t, “I don’t remember all the details.” Oh, that’s why there was a picture on the screen, right? And people don’t remember everything but at least to go back there and have that consistency, because I think the most powerful lesson in there was that trust is easily lost, and if it starts to slide down there, it’s really, really, really hard to get back.
And going back to the medical example there, not to be grim or something like that, but you think about any medical procedure or doctor, they always tell you sort of that worst case scenario. You know, this could be good, but it also could cause all these things too, right?
So at least they put it out there, and it’s like, “Oh right. Good. At least it didn’t cause that.” whereas I think sometimes we wanna get the sale so much. Okay. Not we. Sometimes I’m so anxious to help people is that I know this will work for you. And telling them…
Morgan Friedman (Host): I like how you reframe that. Sometimes we wanna get the sale so much. No, no, no. I wanna help people.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): and that’s the thing, I don’t wanna say we because I’m not speaking for you. I’m speaking for myself. And it’s not that just I wanna close the sale and get the PO but it’s like, “Mark and I know I can help you,” but it’s gotta be their informed decision and give ’em everything in there because at the end of the day, we don’t want another client. We don’t want another customer. We want a long-term relationship there.
I’ve seen even when there’s a little bit of a glitch in a relationship, sometimes how you react to that makes it better, right? I think one of the hotel companies did something where they said that when there was a problem at check-in and they were able to rectify it quickly that people were actually happier, right?
So, if you get there and you’re missing towels and you call and somebody’s right there with them, alright they realize everybody’s human, but boy, they took care of that. And so I think…
Morgan Friedman (Host): I think that’s an important point, but I think it’s even stronger than that cause in any complex or professional relationship, there are gonna be problems.
There are going to be bumps, and by the other person seeing very early how you deal with bumps in a professional, healthy way, that ends up building confidence. So I think it’s actually good to have small bumps in the beginning to build up a lot of trust so that trust is there for when the bigger bumps happen later on, so that they don’t really freak out.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Do you think you should tell them about the bumps of, “These are the concerns you’re gonna have at month two and month three,” to get them ready for those even?
Morgan Friedman (Host): So, by the way, everyone has a different style, so I’m about to tell you what I do, and I don’t mean to recommend that to you or any of our dear listeners.
But my my personal style is to articulate all the problems, or let’s say all the risks and like way up in the beginning. I always do risk minimization docs for a marketing campaign no matter what it is, and something I found is by forcing the risk minimization conversation early before they barely know you cause you’re just starting to work with them, it builds a massive amount of trust because your job is to think through their problems and how to avoid them in any profession, from a marketer to a lawyer to a doctor. Your job is to see what’s gonna go wrong and stop it.
Secondly, as a professional, you’re going to know, be more attuned to the risks and what’s likely to happen to the problem, then this newbie who knows nothing about they industry because they hired you. So it’s a way to show off your expertise because you’ll be like, “Oh, there’s likely this bump and this bump and this bump.” They’ll be like, “Oh, I didn’t even think of that.” Of course they didn’t think of that cuz they’re not the lawyer. They’re not the marketer. You’re the professional. So, I happen to really like doing that as one of my discovery exercises.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And that makes a lot of sense because now it puts you on their side of the table, right? So you’re helping them. You’re telling stuff that may actually hurt your position and help their position, but it shows that you’re working together, not an adversarial role. The other thing too is anything I think that you can do to build trust at any point is gonna help you in the long term, right?
I think of my bride. I trust her. It’s either implicitly or explicitly, right? If she hit me over the head with a frying pan, I think my first reaction would be, “Wow, that must have been a huge fly,” right? Because I would give her the benefit of the doubt that she would never hurt me or do something bad, whereas other people, if there’s not the trust there, and you see this in politics, right? And no matter what the other side does, no matter what they do, it’s evil.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And by the way, I agree with that, and this is interesting in the context when I think about clients in any profession because when you start working with a client, by definition, they don’t know you.
They’re your new client. Because they’re new, they haven’t yet seen how you work. So, it’s important for the first months to keep it to review the first three or six months because it’s rarely before three months at the earliest, often six months, before you see how someone really works and trust is really built. That’s really a trust-building exercise and articulating discussing risks is one way to do it.
And then there’s some other ways to do it that that relate directly to your story, and one of those is overcommunication, which goes to the point I was saying earlier that not only should you have communicated it to the client, I would’ve said you should overcommunicate, like, remind, remind, remind, remind.
Like however strongly you think you need to make a point to a client, you need to make it 10 times as strong in order for it to get through.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And I agree with you on that. And often, I find there’s documenting and communicating. So often, well, it was in an email.
Or it was in that standard operating agreement, to the contract you signed. “I’m sorry, I don’t… I didn’t read all 27 pages of that.” Now, granted, ours is a two page, but I always wonder if I’m documenting or communicating. And the only difference to me is documenting is “I have it there.” Communicating means that I know that they understand it.
So, you know, different people communicate in different ways. So, did you tell them? Did you show them? How many times did you put it in there? It wasn’t that, “Well, I communicated it to ’em.” It’s printed in three places and 10 different emails or something.
Or even ask them, “Do you understand that? Does that make sense? Is that what you were looking for?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah, so I think the more important the issue, the more important it is for you to confirm that the information was received. So if it’s something unimportant, if it’s on page 27 of the contract, it’s an unimportant point. It doesn’t matter.
However, when we’ll go live, the expected number of visitors, expected response, is so, so important. It’s this sort of thing where you wanna put in writing and look them in the eye and tell them. And by the way, there are like even stronger ways. There’s some sort of things that’s like, “Please confirm receipt of this information.” and they have to check a check box or send an email in order to write out to confirm that they did.
So there’s levels of strength that you can go to to make sure that they actually got it.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And to me, I think timelines really work for people. You know, if it’s building a house or getting any project, people forget that they caused delays and they still want it delivered on time, right? I think if my taxes are due April 15th, the accountant better get ’em in there. I don’t remember, “Oh yeah. I didn’t get ’em the stuff till like March 15th.”
So, if you can be very clear of this is when it’ll be delivered provided you can get us all of this stuff. And that’s something we’ve done more in the chart that we showed them. And now granted it’s a generic one now, but it says, this is when we start, this is when the interview’s recorded, this is when we expect it to go live.
And then before we actually engage, we’ll say, “Okay, so if you start today, and we’ll go back to that slide. So it’s gonna be two weeks for this, so that’s gonna be this date, then another couple weeks for here.” But then always come back. “That’s provided that you start today.” All the rest of that.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I think that’s really good. What’s something I like about our episode so far is that one of the themes, at least from my side that I’m making, is overcommunication, which is a new point.
Cause in previous episodes, I’ve spoken a lot about communication, but not about overcommunication, which is a very important point. I always like to get a new point out. So in the frame of mind of my argument tonight of the importance of overcommunication, I would say it’s not just that the accountant needs to say, “Well, we’ll have your taxes filed by April 15th provided you respond in a time away to each of our emails. I would just super overcommunicate that if I were the accountant it in this example, I would put in the original contract and I would say, “Hey, anytime we ask you a question, we need a response within 48 hours.”
And then not just by telling that verbally when we start, every single question I send them, I would repeat at the end, “Hey, my question about this deduction, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. By the way, I wanna remind you, we need the answer within 48 hours in order to ensure that we’re that we can file it on time.”
And if every question just repeats it, then it hammers it in. And by the way, I think a lot of people don’t do this because I think a lot of people think if you say it once, the information is likely received. And also people don’t wanna be annoying. Who wants to be the annoying asshole that just says the same stupid reminder over and over and over?
But my argument is that’s the only way to really make sure that the message got through and reduce the probability of these sorts of misunderstandings.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And I like how you phrased that because it’s not just, “I need this back within 48 hours per the agreement,” but you tied it into what they want.
You know, in order for this to be filed on time and avoid penalties, it’s vital that you get us the answer within 48 hours, so tying it into what they want to give them the the encouragement to do that.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yeah. And by the way, I know a lot of the people, and sometimes there’s some versions of me.
I’m the same way too. If I get an email from my accountant, I’ll be like, “Okay, I’ll go over it. It’ll be into my queue,” but as soon as I see me in 48 hours, it clicks in my mind. It’s like, “Okay, it’s their policy, so it’s what they need. I’ll make sure it’s responded to you within 48 hours.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And there’s a quote that I remember seeing.
It either came attributed to Bill Gates or Abraham Lincoln, right? Everything on the internet is Abraham Lincoln, and it said that email is a great way to share information, but not always a great way to communicate. So, when we talk about overcommunicating, it doesn’t just mean sending more emails, right?
If they haven’t responded to the last two or three emails, to send him another one probably isn’t gonna do it. And so one of the things we always teach our people is ask them how they wanna communicate, right? Do they want texts? I can think of one client we work with. Guy’s a genius, but he’s dyslexic.
If you give him a long email, he won’t read it. If you send him a text and ask him five questions, you’re gonna get one answer and you won’t know what answer of those five questions. It is. And so we know with him, ‚just jump on a quick call or better yet, send him a quick video that asks the one question.
Do that, he’ll get back to you right away. And with that too, then you know that video, I’ve never had a typo in a video, so it doesn’t come off bad with autocorrect and the tone’s there, and I think it’s also harder to ignore either an email or a text that has a video because now, somebody’s just asked you nicely for something. There’s a face to it. It’s like, I get lots and lots of emails. Those are easy to put in the folder and get to later.
Morgan Friedman (Host): What I would add to that is, from my eyes, there’s a hierarchy of communication methods, and the more important the subject matter, the more you want to go up in the chain of importance of communication.
So like, the least important communication is text message. It’s ephemeral, it disappears immediately. And then a bit more important than text messages is email. it’s there, it’s fine, but like email, do people read it? It gets lost. A bit more serious and important than email is a doc, like a Google Doc or an MS Word doc.
Oh, you wrote it? What could have been an email, putting that same information in the doc, that’s serious. And then there’s like the doc on paper or the doc with lawyers. But then, even more higher level than docs is video conference, real time, where you talk to them and then at the top is in person.
Like they’re really, really, really important stuff. Like when a billion dollars are at stake, the future of the world is at stake. You take a plane, and you fly to them, and you meet. So to me, whether you go from email, from text, email doc, call, video, in person has to do with the seriousness or importance of the issue at hand.
So if it’s like a minor little issue, you can text it to them. If there’s a real misunderstanding, you want to get on a call. But then the huge misunderstanding like, “Hey, let’s meet at the cafe on the corner and talk eye to eye.”
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): As you were saying that, it almost reminded me of the eviction process, right? They’ll send you some emails that tells you you’re late.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Oh, yeah.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Then you get a letter, then you get the certified letter, then you get the sheriff knocking at your door. That’s a big communication problem when the sheriff knocks at your door.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly. So I like the point that there are different communication methodologies. Some people prefer text, some people prefer voice, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s this hierarchy, and when things become more important, you have to use different ones. And it’s somewhere with clients.
But what often happens to me is if I give someone a message and I think they didn’t get it, let’s say, I send them something over email two times and they don’t respond, then they may not have gotten their message. They didn’t respond to my last two emails. Then what you can do is you can change the media, change the format.
They didn’t respond to emails. Okay, I’m just gonna send ’em a text message. They didn’t respond to the text message, I’m just gonna give them a call. So changing the media also lets you play with this hierarchy of effect of trying to reach them and communicate what you need to communicate in different ways.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And I would think that using the right communication also sets the tone for how important it is. So if everything needs an in-person meeting all of a sudden.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yes. Good point. Good point.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Then nothing is important. You can’t have everything being priorities there. Do you think it’s also who communicates it?
Because at times I…
Morgan Friedman (Host): Ooh, good point.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Think of, you know, maybe one of my team members. So if they don’t get the response, then I might have to call the customer and say, “They were having a hard time getting in touch with you.” I have more gravitas, if you will, having the initials behind my name.
Morgan Friedman (Host): I think that the fact that you have less hair than you had 20 years ago gives you some gravitas. It’s a positive of that. No, but that’s actually a really good point. I hadn’t thought of it until you said it, but I totally agree.
You can have the low-level person in company contact them, and if the low-level person can’t clear it up and misunderstanding is there or there’s still ambiguity, then you have the mid-level person, until it eventually comes up to the big boss himself.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Well, I’ve heard that says the more gray hair you have, the more you can charge. That’s why I grew the beard, you know. I figured, “Oh, that, that should be worth some extras,” right?
Morgan Friedman (Host): Maybe you really have black hair, but you dye it gray just so you can charge more.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And so I don’t get carded.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly. Speaking of carded, I’m gonna have some more wisdom.
By the way, I like this framework that we’re developing here about it’s not just communication, where we started out by the word of the lessons of your stories is the importance of communication. Then we’re emphasizing that with not just communication but overcommunication. But now we’ve been diving into the nuances cause the implication of your point is really interesting. You can’t just over communicate. Cause if everything is a bomb, if I send them dozens of emails every day reminding them of everything, then nothing becomes important as you say.
So what you also need to do is you need to have a good radar or train your team to have a good radar to listen to what’s likely been understood or not and how important are things or not. And then based on that, escalate the communications in these different levels of this sort that we’ve been talking about.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yes. And I think there has to be a continual flow of communication so that we communicate not just during challenging times but in good times too. So that if the only time the client ever calls is when there’s a problem, the only time we ever communicate is when there’s a problem, I think that can be detrimental to the trust in the relationship or at least put tension, right?
If all of a sudden, “Oh, got an email from ’em, something must be wrong.” So I think making sure there’s that flow of communication, that flow of trust, so they’re used to having that because the other thing I’ve seen is that in the lack of information, people will make their own decisions, and it’s not always the right answers.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And I think it’s not… I agree with that. It’s not just with the lack of communication, people make their own decisions, but I think there’s something in the mind of most humans. It’s probably related to like the Eve, the bited apple, and the fall of man. These bad ideas, people have that. I think when there’s little communication, people tend to assume the worst.
So if I hire a software developer and he asks me lots of questions, if he has asked me a question every single day, I assume he’s working on the software. If I hire a software developer and I don’t hear from him for a month, I assume he is like disappeared and isn’t doing anything. You just assume the worst when there’s very little communication.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And that’s a great example because he can’t show you the product when it’s 50% done or it’s 75% done. And so with that lack of it, you think it’s 0% done. Even to ask those questions and give the updates that says, “Here is the progress we have made. Now we might not have results yet, but here’s the progress and we’re on track, we’re behind track.”
We’re very, very transparent in that. I’ve always looked at it as like people will say, “Well, don’t share the bad news with them.” Well, they already know the bad news, right? It’s already the elephant in the room.
If you’re past due, they know it’s past due. So, be the first one to bring it up there and say, “This is why. This is what we’re doing to correct it,” to get the bad news out there because it puts it in context. At least they realize that you know what you’re taking responsibility for it also.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Love it. I agree with that. To share a little weapon from the Morgan arsenal of weapons, building on the example that I just gave a moment ago, I judge people by the questions they ask me. Like I judge if they’re working by the questions they asked.
Said differently, you’ll hire any professional to do anything in any industry, any discipline, no matter what, they’re going to have questions. You go to the doctor, no matter what it is, the doctor is going to ask you something cause whatever the doctor sees, it’s gonna trigger a thought or a possibility, and he’s going to want clarification to see if it’s this, this, or this.
So like when software developers or doctors wanna ask questions, you’re like, “Okay, they’re thinking about it.”
So, to me, and when people don’t ask questions, like the guy disappears, like if he says I’m working on it, even if he doesn’t disappear, even if I say, “Hey, how’s it going?” He’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m working on it.” That one is always going to have a worse outcome than the one that asked me the question cause the one that asked me the questions is trying to figure out my preferences, what I want, what I’m looking for, my objectives in building it in a way that there is the genius that’s not asking anything. He can’t read my mind cuz he’s merely immortal.
So questions are really powerful, and I flip it on my head and I judge people at the questions they ask me, but not just that. I do this with my clients knowing this subconscious dynamic is happening. I do this with my clients and I purposely ask lots of questions and not just at once, not just on day one. I purposely ask questions spaced out over time so they see that I’m thinking about it and it’s on my mind.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Do you think their questions reflect to how much they care about it, how passionate they are about it, how curious they are, or how committed or is it an intelligence thing?
Morgan Friedman (Host): A bit of both, but my instinct is more on the former, more how passionate they are about it. Said differently, you go to a doctor and you say, “Hey, I have this symptom, this symptom, this symptom, this symptom.” The doctor has seen it a million times, so the doctor already knows, just based on what you said, that there’s a 90% chance it’s this thing.
So the doctor without the passion that just wants to like get the insurance to pay him the $50 and just wants to check the box and finish it, he’ll, like, you’ll say the symptoms and the doctor one will know 90% chance it’s this. He’ll say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you just have a cold. Here’s a prescription for some cold medication. You’ll, you’ll be fine.” But it’s the doctor with passion that will think, “Well, there’s a 10% chance that it’s this or this or this or this. Let me just put in the emotions and thought and use my mind to ask probing questions to see if I can eliminate this 10% other options or discover if it really is.”
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): That’s an interesting take on it. I had left out the passion portion because when I was in college, there was three summers that I worked at Los Alamos National Lab, the bomb factory in New Mexico. And at the time, it had the most PhDs per square acre, any place in the world. And it was interesting because sometimes, it’d be very confusing and you couldn’t tell who was the scientist and who was the janitor because it was very, very laid back, and I remember someone told, told me at the time, they said, “The person that keeps asking you the questions is the scientist. The person that is just looks disheveled, just like the scientists, they’re probably the janitor because they know everything they need to know.
It’s the scientist that’s still trying to figure it out and wants everybody’s opinion on it. And I always thought it was intelligence, but I think you’re right where it’s not only that. It’s the passion, that questioning, all that, and how engaged are they with it.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. Cause I think there are lots of intelligent people who don’t care. “Yeah. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s probably this.” So maybe it’s applied intelligence. Asking questions is intelligent people applying it, and you only apply your intelligence when you feel passionate or engaged.
We’ve all had client engagements where at a certain point you just like, right before you ended those last weeks before you end a client engagement, that’s when you lose interest and that’s the time where you stop asking the questions, you stop applying your mind even though your mind was just as sharp as it was a year earlier before the engagement is about to finish.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yeah. The questions show you’re curious and also that you care and that you’re engaged.
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, I really like your comparison of just asking questions as a defining characteristic of scientists. I never thought about it before. I just ask lots of questions. That’s just my personality.
And it’s funny that the brand I’m known by online and my marketing brand is I’m the marketingscientist.com, so it’s like scientists. So without even realizing it, not on purpose, I had this scientific approach of just really, really probing until I figure stuff out.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): I met so many people that, you know, they’d written the textbooks, multiple PhDs, and they were some of the most curious people I ever met because they wanted to keep learning, they wanted to know what you learned, what you thought, and they wanted fresh eyes to it.
So, I think that’s a good lesson for us after we’ve seen so many engagements, right? I’ve seen this problem before. Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. But for the client, it’s the first time. So asking them the questions because often they learn as much from their answers answering you as you do from answering or asking them the question.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Agreed. And to tie this back into your story and client horror stories, I think this is the exact subtext that you need in order to be always improving your processes so that you do mistakes once, but then you don’t do it again.
Said differently, the way you learn and become a better professional is when things go wrong, trying to understand why they went wrong, and changing how you do things so it doesn’t happen again, and that starts with asking these sorts of questions. What did I do wrong? How could I have identified it earlier, prevented it? And then implementing these sorts of processes to bring it back to the story.
So how have you changed your processes as a result of the story to be more communicative?
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): So, the big question that you just brought up there is the one we ask: What was our part in this? What could we have done better?
So as we look back on that, now we’re very, very clear in not only our delivery, but even when we sell the product. So in our discovery calls and our roadmap calls of what the engagement will look like to show them exactly this is what the timeline is, this is the scale, this is what a big podcast is, this is what someone downloading or listening to a podcast means, and start to frame it in ways that they know. So not letting them compare it to, you know, how many people does this radio station reach. But going back to, imagine if this was a physical stage, right? Speaking to thousands, tens of thousands of people. So putting it in that.
And then also, Showing them pictures. So, we’re very big. We don’t do the majority of our calls just on phone because I know personally when I’m on a phone call, I’m multitasking. I may hear some of it. I may not. You know, if you’re in the car, it may cut out.
I want their undivided attention, so when it’s something important to do it, we’ll record it and offer them a copy of it not so much for documentation, but for communication, if they wanna share it with themselves or anybody in the team.
Morgan Friedman (Host): By the way, what’s interesting is in the hierarchy of communication, I articulated before, I thought of this before, but what I never realized, I thought of the hierarchy before, but what I think you’re making me change a hierarchy cuz I hadn’t realized until this very second that what’s even more powerful than like the Zoom call is a recorded Zoom call.
Like it’s recorded, it’s on the record, this is going to be shared, and that that is much, much more like if this call weren’t being recorded, I could say whatever crazy things I want, but this is gonna be recorded and it’s gonna be online. So it’s fundamentally more serious. So this is another level to add into this seriousness scale.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And of the professionalism and the trust scale too.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Yes, because it also builds up trust. Okay. I like this. I like this. And, I think these are healthy ways to improve and change a process.
What I would also add is, and this is an interesting subtlety, I think we need not just see it as a problem and say, “Okay, how can we change our process? But what’s the process for noticing the processes that need to be changed, the meta version of this question. Said differently, “Okay, we have this thing, it’s working fine.”
Now you hire someone else to do this part of the process, but when this other person does it, they’re just not paying attention to every little subtlety of the tone of voice and the questions and what’s happening in the way that you are. So it’s much more likely that they don’t even realize that the things that are going wrong or could go better.
So it’s interesting to ask ourselves, “How can we do things differently in order to that?” And with this example of recording calls, one possibility is maybe we just record calls or spot check, sometimes, record calls, and then have other people listen to them as an interesting form of quality control. But not just quality control of your team, of saying, “Okay, I hear the client is happy.” I just wanna, like, hear it in their own voice. And then while you’re in a gym, you can listen to what they’re actually saying. That’s an interesting variation of it.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): And I think it’s getting also to the root cause, right? That it wasn’t just a problem because it. 12 point type when it should have been 18 point type. No, it was a communication problem. So how do we do that? How do we do it earlier? And one of the things I’ve learned in all of the customer horror stories is they built up, right?
If it was addressed earlier, It wouldn’t have got to be a horror story. So trying to diffuse it, trying to identify it early before it becomes the horror story.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. This has been very insightful. From your little story, we’ve extracted a whole bunch of insights and new insights, for me at least.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Same here. The idea of the hierarchy of communications, I never thought about that, that each one has a different level and should be used at the right time. That’s powerful.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That one I thought about before, and in fact, in my book, Love Icons, I even have a chapter on that.
So, that’s an older idea that I thought of once, but I now need to go back and edit the chapter because I like the recording as another level of seriousness because I think it’s a powerful addition to it. What I’ll also add is for the different hierarchy. I think where a communication medium goes on the hierarchy.
It’s about the combination of how ephemeral or not per temporary the communication is versus how human it is, like text messages are the least important and the least serious cause they disappear. Everyone deletes them or you change your phone and they’re gone.
Email, at least you sometimes keep, but like documents, legal documents, those are the things you keep forever. So it’s the more permanent changes, but then also, the more closer, it’s a face-to-face. Like me just sending a text message passive aggressively is not face-to-face, but then hearing your voice on a phone call is a bit closer, seeing you is a bit closer, being physically next to you is as close as it comes, so I think those are the two scales to think about it on.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yeah, it’s the richness of the conversation too, right? And that’s one of the reasons that I, a lot of times, will go to video because (a) I type slow and the only thing worse than my spelling is my typing.
So, there’s typos in there, whereas it’s often easier for me to just do a quick video and especially to the team because it not only communicates the information, but it also communicates the tone. And I don’t know, it just seems richer in there than just sending them a text with the same information.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Something I started doing recently is sending people I work closely with Looms. It’s my new favorite tool. It’s so good because you just press a button and it says everything for you. It just gives you the URL, and it records you and your screen, and it makes it look so professional.
And I found that it actually makes it much more like you’re talking to them even though it’s just a quickly recorded message, and it’s even faster than writing out a whole document.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Especially when you drop the URL in there and it gives the title and it gives a little GIF that shows you moving. So there’s that action there as you’re scrolling down.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Totally. This is great. This was a fun conversation. Any final comments or wrap-up things or things you wanted to mention or forget or should we call it a night?
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Well, I think one of the things that I just wanted to say again, when we were talking, you put it in perspective, right?
What’s a customer horror story? My customer horror story, nobody got sued, lawyers didn’t get involved, nobody died, nobody went bankrupt, but in my mind, that was a horror story because it challenged one of the things I hold most dear, reputation of our company and that we’re delivering good service on there.
So, whatever your customer horror story is, it’s real to you, it’s real to the customer, and there’s real answers that we can get out of that on the root causes so that we can fix that going forth cuz we all wanna get better service, and we all want to give better service.
Morgan Friedman (Host): That’s an interesting point. Makes sense. A point on the client horror series I had never thought about until this second, just thinking about what you just said, is how relative a lot of this is. Like, some things are objective. If you do something and someone dies, that’s like objectively horrible.
But short of something like that, for example, if someone calls you an asshole and then calls you the nastiest words in the book in a professional context and it’s someone you respect, some people would be emotionally destroyed by that and would never show up again, would disappear. Other people are like, “Oh, whatever. Who cares what this joker thinks?” And just continue like nothing happens. So, so much of it is dependent on you and your personality as the same thing. You can be a nightmare or just something you laugh over and a funny story to tell.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Yeah. Well, thank you. I’ve learned a lot from this discussion and really unpacking the story and ways that we can even moreso go in there to avoid problems like this.
And communication is the heart of that. I love how you said the overcommunicating and then also the hierarchy of communication.
Morgan Friedman (Host): And I also advocate a risk analysis in the beginning to build up trust. And even in your context, for our interviewees or people were promoting, the five most common problems we have, or the five most common reasons why there are bumps or it fails, or these five things, I wanna tell you these upfront because here is exactly what I wanna do to avoid each one of those. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.
If I heard someone and they did that to me upfront, I would be like, wow. This just builds up so much trust, and this is kind of how I want everyone to dream. Like I want to use your cancer example. If the doctor tells me that I need chemotherapy, I want the doctor to tell me here are the five biggest risk factors of the chemotherapy.
One, you’re likely to lose your hair. Therefore, here’s what we should do in order to prevent that risk. You know, take this drug, do this thing, 2, 3, 4, 5. Like, I think it’s a very powerful and professional way to treat people.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Or even get their buy-in as you were saying that. I was thinking of saying, “These are the five reasons you’re not gonna get results from this” and to put those up there so that they can see what could cause the problem. And because they can proactively address those.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Exactly because they’re paying you all this money so they wanna see results, and by you doing this immediately, it puts a ball in your court and in their court.
It’s a nice way of saying “If we fell, it’ll probably be cause you fucked up in one of these things.” So I’m gonna mention this on day number one, so you can start getting into your subconscious the things that you need to do in order to make sure it works. It’s a much nicer, more professional way of making that sort of point which is why I like it.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): It reminded me of a story. A buddy of mine almost got fired by his cardiologist. So, he had a family history of heart disease. He was young. He went to the doctor and after about a year, the doctor said, “You’re gonna die early.” And he says, “I don’t like my patients dying early. It makes me look bad, makes me sad, so if you’re not worried about it, you’re not gonna be my patient.”
So he says, “You’re gonna die early and you won’t be my patient unless you do these things by our next appointment six months from now. Lose the weight, stop smoking, other things like that.” it was a wake-up call to him that it’s not just me, it’s you. And if we don’t get results, it makes me look bad too. We we’re both in this together.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Love it. That’s a another version of this same sort of approach. And I use language like that all the time.
I only wanna work with people who wanna do their part of it. It’s magical thinking to you to hire a professional for anything, no matter what it is. Hire a professional and they just disappear, click some buttons, and suddenly your health is great, your legal problems are solved, you’re getting more clients.
Whatever it is, it’s always this process of you two working closely together. So you need to be willing to do that upfront, and this sort of risk analysis with here’s what you need to do is a way to vet who is likely to want to be willing to do their 50% of what will need to be done.
Tom Schwab (Interviewee): Thank you, Morgan. This has been a great conversation and by the grace of the editor, he or she will turn it into a great podcast.
Morgan Friedman (Host): Definitely. And everyone who made it to the end, I hope you had as much fun as we had talking about this.
This transcription belongs to Episode #33, please watch the complete episode here!