Nobody Moved Your Cheese!

How to Ignore the Experts and Trust Your Gut

by Shel Horowitz

It may have had the most laughter of any event in the Family Business Center’s 11-year history — but there was a serious message, too.

Comedian Ross Shafer, author of such books as Cook Like a Stud: 38 Recipes Men Can Prepare in the Garage…Using their Own Tools! and Nobody Moved Your Cheese! How to Ignore the “Experts” and Trust Your Gut, regaled a packed house at the Clarion with a mix of stand-up, videos, and real-world business advice disguised as humor.

Much of his talk focused on understanding how different audiences perceive you — and how you should perceive them. Showing a video of a construction worker drilling through a wall to impale and spin the workman behind the wall, he noted, “Women identify with the victim in every joke, so the men are laughing and the women — ‘Is he ok?’ They have empathy, they build relationships.” But women perhaps empathize too much at times: “That was a digital guy; there was no real guy spinning around on the drill,”

A little reality check on marketing: “That famous demographic of 18-44 — they have no money to spend! 55+ has 21% discretionary, and in 55-64, 47%. 44-65 is the new consumer majority. By 2050 our life expectancy will be 95 years old according to the US Census and U.S. Dept. of Health. AARP is having workshops for 65 year olds on starting their next career. Boomers and geezers rule!”

The more reason to pay attention to “what you do with your hyphen” between the birth and death dates on your tombstone.

His own journey from retail to comedy and training is colorful. “I had America’s only stereo and pet shop. There’s no market, it was a really bad idea, but it was fun — we got a lot of publicity. But I didn’t like taking care of a pet shop; they eat each other. You can’t make money when your inventory’s in a state of natural selection.

“I adopted my own philosophy: success is going to be my own fault. I wrote to Johnny Carson and said, ‘how do I get your job?’ He didn’t write back. I watched, and I entered some comedy competitions and started winning. Less than six years from the pet shop, I ended up competing against Carson on Fox.

“When you go up against Johnny Carson, you get…CANCELLED!” He became a game show host. “It’s the easiest work in the world, they tape five shows a day, you work four days a month. Your work is done in four hours.

“I taped a month’s worth of episodes and I was working a comedy club in Denver. A man taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘you’re the match game guy, ain’t you? Son [tapping his watch], you ain’t going to make it.’

“But when you get invited to be an entertainer, they’re spilling their guts to me like I’m not going to tell anybody, I go back to my hotel and take notes, and we have a customer service training business. The problems are the same in any industry.”

And service issues are at the core of his message to family businesses. “If we have trouble in our business, it’s because we get distracted from the things that put us there, the core competencies that we feel passionate about. You don’t need CRM, time management, software — you need a customer! Customers don’t want good customer service anymore. They want spectacular.”

As an example, when Maria Garcia from Room Service in a Florida hotel saw Shafer’s disappointment when she brought him a Diet Pepsi instead of the Diet Coke he’d ordered, she went from floor to floor, checking the vending machines to find him his Diet Coke, finding one four floors down. “I got so fired up I wrote a chapter in my book about her. I am now the unpaid spokesperson for Maria Garcia and the Orlando Marriott. I wrote a letter to the corporate HQ. I told the supervisor, I told the hotel manager, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Now she’s the food and beverage manager [at the Marriott] in Boston. She’s going to end up running that company.

“Customers don’t want voicemail, they want to talk to human beings. They don’t want a ‘business relationship; they either like people or don’t like people. You’re not going to compete with Wal-Mart on price. Or China on cost. So the last great profit barrier is relationships.

“Even during the recession, women-owned companies grew — because they take a pop quiz every month in their magazines. We don’t have quizzes in our magazines, do we, guys? Women build relationships by showing interest. They ask follow-up questions. They play this trick: they listen. That’s how they remember what we said. We remember what we meant, it’s way different. Women can process four times faster. They go here and here and here and we’re just lugging up the first hill. They ask how are you doing, rather than how’s it going?

“A satisfied female customer recommends to 21 other people,” while men average only 2.6. “Women are the biggest complainers — because they buy everything. They’re responsible for 83% of consumer purchases, and those they don’t make directly, they’re influencing.

“25% make more money than their husbands and feel they have a right to spend it on themselves. In the nightclub business, there’s a rule, win the women first and the men will follow. If she’s laughing, he can relax.”

And 81% of those female customers say the quality of the buying experience wins out over price or product.

Conveying that experience successfully puts you in line to mentor others. Never assume you don’t have an impact, and never assume that nobody’s watching. “You influence somebody every single day, Somebody gave you encouragement [at a crucial moment)], and you will never forget that person’s name.”

As for the idea that you’re always in the spotlight, he showed a video clip of Peter Jennings, yawning and sneezing when he thought the camera was off. Ouch!

The idea of cooking with power tools is real, by the way; he showed a video of using a bench grinder to peel potatoes!