3 things the Incredible Hulk reminded me about good business

Last week I fulfilled a promise that I made to my 10-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, taking them to Denver’s 2014 Comic Con. If you never been, I encourage you to give it a try. Even if you’re not into comics, animation or role-playing video games, Comic Con provides some fantastic people watching. Sure it’s a little unusual to see a grown man dressed up as a Storm Trooper or Harry Potter, but you can’t help but appreciate the passion and commitment these people show.  

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After criss-crossing the tradeshow floor, my son and I split off and found ourselves standing in front of autograph row. This is the area where comic book icons and celebrities sign autographs and take pictures with their fans. To be honest, I didn’t recognize most of the names and only a few sounded vaguely familiar. But there was one name that jumped out — Lou Ferrigno.

That’s right, the two-time IFBB Mr. Universe turned actor who starred in the 80s television series “The Incredible Hulk” was signing autographs. My son had zero interest in getting his autograph, but I did having watched the show religiously when I was a kid. We quickly jumped in line and waited our turn.

Now I’ve never actually asked for a celebrity’s autograph, let alone stood in line to pay for one, so I wasn’t exactly sure how it worked. The security attendant (why does the Hulk need security, by the way?) explained that an autograph cost $40. Seriously? Forty bucks for an autograph? But before I could bail out of line, my son and I were called up to Lou’s table. And here’s a basic transcript of what happened:

Me: “Hi, Mr. Ferrigno.”
Ferrigno: “What’s his name?”
Me: “My son’s name is Owen.”
Ferrigno: “O…W….E….N?”
Me: “Yes.”

He neatly autographed the photo and handed it to me. I handed him the two twenties, which he tucked into a small duffle and then motioned and said, “Next.”

WTF? That’s it? No smile? No handshake for my 10-year-old kid? No friendly small talk about whether we’re enjoying the show? Nothing. Just a simple, cold financial transaction. I felt duped. I felt stupid. But most of all, I felt disappointed.

The silver lining to this experience?

Three important reminders about good business

1. Don’t Do it Just for the Money: Regardless of your business — be it selling shoes, signing autographs, or helping business people build their own software — if you’re just in it for the money, it’ll show and your business will suffer. Clearly, Lou’s passion isn’t signing autographs. He was clearly there just for the money. I don’t blame Lou for wanting or needing to make a buck. But I believe his real business, which is his celebrity persona, fitness solutions, etc., suffered as a result of signing autographs just for the money.
The good business reminder: Do something you love. Do something you’re passionate about. If it matters to you, it’ll matter to your customers.

2. Sweat the Small Stuff: No doubt big Lou spent thousands of hours building a successful bodybuilding and acting career. However, my respect and admiration for all he’s achieved was tarnished by a 30-second interaction. Instead of buying almost anything with his name attached to it, I’ll think twice next time. At TrackVia, we put a lot of hard work and sweat into everything we do from how we design the product, engage customers in support, and even how new employees are on-boarded to the team.
The good business reminder: Don’t just focus on the big stuff. Pay close attention to the small details of your business. Big or small, it all matters. (And if you happen to notice something we’ve overlooked or you think needs improved about our business, I want to know. Email me at charles.var@trackvia.com. I assure you that we’ll fix it.)

3. Good and Bad Impressions SPREAD FAST: In all fairness to Mr. Ferrigno, he did nothing blatantly wrong. He wasn’t rude. He wasn’t arrogant. And our interaction was short. Nevertheless, I left with a very distinct negative impression of the experience and it’s unlikely I’ll soon forget it. And in today’s connected world, my ability to share my experience isn’t limited to the people I bump into and talk with. I’ve tweeted, posted and now blogged about this experience, sharing it with potentially thousands of people.
The good business reminder: Your customers will do the same. Statistics show that 97 percent of people will share bad experiences, whereas 87 percent will share good experiences. So every interaction with your customers is an opportunity, not a burden.

To sum things up, whether you’re a two-time Mr. Universe signing autographs or a start-up technology company like TrackVia trying to help business people, never lose sight of what you’re in business to do, that the big and small stuff matters, and how important it is to treat your customers very well in today’s connected world.

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What $40 will get you these days.