May 3, 2019

Life at 30,000 Feet

Life at 30,000 Feet
Businessmen with hard hats

The Fun Continues

The latest installment in the Ask Marcum advertising campaign begins airing on cable news stations next week, in all Marcum markets around the country. The 15- and 30-second spots can be seen on CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News, and MSNBC weekdays from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM, and on weekend afternoons on ESPN.

The four new ads continue our use of humor to drive home the value Marcum creates as a trusted advisor to our clients. I think you will find that they hit home for many of you. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think – I would welcome your emails.

As if air travel weren’t already a test of civil society (not to mention human contortion), now the airlines are considering new cost-saving measures that are sure to push the boundaries of customer tolerance even further. Among the possibilities being tested are seats that recline even less, according to the Los Angeles Times, bicycle seat-style contraptions with a plastic bar to lean against, seats that stack like bunk beds, and a design that alternates forward- and rear-facing seats in a hexagon pattern.

The big question is how far airlines will take the idea of stuffing more people into each plane before a recession forces them to compete for passengers. Perhaps one of the more innovative airlines will realize early that there’s an opportunity to gain market share by making flying more comfortable for the masses – not less. Of course, that may just be wishful thinking on my part having just gotten off a flight from LA to NY.

What’s happening in the airline industry is a microcosm of what many middle-market leaders are experiencing in their own industries. What they sell is turning into a commodity, whether that means brokerage services, cable TV subscriptions or smartphones. Maybe there’s a race to the bottom on pricing, an influx of competitors from lower-cost markets, or ongoing pressure to find new ways to protect profits.

It’s hard to win that game if you’re not running a giant company. Achieving new efficiencies often requires a lot of capital, financial as well as intellectual, whether you do it by placing large orders with suppliers or installing technology that will help you get more done in less time. It’s easy to burn through your cash reserves quickly. In the meantime, if you strip away all of the small extras customers like, it can leave them unhappy and lead to a lot of defections.

Where middle-market companies can win is by offering a great customer experience. Many big companies try to achieve an edge in today’s markets by cutting back on customer service. Think about those blasted automated phone systems you have to navigate if you want to change a plane ticket, check a credit card charge, or call your health insurance company – and how you feel after pressing through six different pathways. I’m a big advocate of automation, but only when it’s done well. Often, it’s not.

Middle-market companies that offer a great customer experience and access to smart, empathetic team members – and make their value proposition clear to customers – will find that high-touch service puts them in hot demand, even if they have to charge a little more to cover the overhead involved.

There’s real value in saving people time and leaving them happy, not frustrated. And when you take the time to build genuine relationships with customers and become a trusted resource for them, you don’t have to put as much effort into the selling process. They will naturally come to you when they need help and advice. We’ve found this to be true at Marcum, where many of our relationships go back decades and extend into multiple generations of the same families.

I don’t know where the trend toward packing more people into airlines will lead and shudder to think of the possibilities. What I do know is that recent trends are creating pain in the marketplace, and that’s a big opportunity.

No matter what your industry, the future has always belonged to business leaders who are good at spotting the pain points of the people they serve – and finding fresh and exciting ways to address them. I’d love to hear from you about how you’re doing that in your own field.

P.S. Like many of you, I was deeply saddened by the synagogue shooting in San Diego on the last day of Passover. As we learn more about how congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye gave her life shielding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from the bullets and how an off-duty Border Patrol agent drove the assailant from the synagogue, it’s apparent that without these heroes, the situation would have been even more tragic. It’s truly a shame that in the 21st Century, hate crimes like this one still take place. May Lori Gilbert-Kaye rest in peace.

Sadly, the headlines are now filled with another more recent tragedy, the shooting at the University of North Carolina that left two people dead and four injured. Authorities say the carnage would have been worse if a heroic student, Riley Howell, 21, had not tackled the gunman. Unfortunately, this brave young man gave his life in the process.

We urgently need to find a way, as a society, to end mass shootings and prevent the tragic loss of lives. It’s time for the senseless violence to end.