I was literally left with my mouth open by an article in the latest edition of Fortune Magazine.  It was about American Express’ new, innovative approach to improve customer service: first, ask your customer service employees how you can improve customer service; then use some of their ideas, give them a better working environment, higher pay and a clearer path to advancement.

The concept behind the strategy, according to the article: happier customer service employees make for better customer service.   Really?  Seriously?   Is it me, or is this laughably, painfully, embarrassingly obvious?

Allow me to suggest articles for upcoming issues of Fortune:

“Company includes phone number and website address in print ads; sales double overnight!”

“Retailer installs cash registers in all stores to facilitate ease of purchase, sales jump.”

“Factory gives employees forklifts to move heavy stuff; productivity skyrockets.”

I have about 20 more of those, but you get the idea.

After I calmed down from the absurdity — or maybe I’m just pissed I wasn’t the consultant who charged American Express a huge fee to tell them happy employees make happy customers — I started to think about “the simple things” and whether small businesses (the type of company I serve) are doing them.

The reality is, there are lots of painfully obvious things that may be standing in the way of your marketing success-

I visited on the phone with three owners of a start-up company yesterday.  One of them told me they sell a personality profile.  I had spent 15 minutes on their website preparing for the phone call and didn’t understand that they sell a personality profile.

“Company clearly explains what they sell on Home page, sales take off!”

Companies often want me to increase their website traffic.  I regularly have to spend time, first, simplifying their website.  Too many pages.  Their message broken into too many pieces.  With the average visit under three minutes and three pages, this is a problem.

“Company tells whole story on Home page, again on Services page and again on About page, conversions soar.”

Another problem I see as a consultant: companies with messages that sound like everybody else.   They work hard at describing what they’re good at and what they think customers are interested in.  But they do it in a vacuum from what their competitors are saying.  A general contractor retained me to refine their message.  I compared their message with 14 of their competitors.  Eight fundamentally said the same thing.  Why, then, are general contractors so surprised when owners select the low bid?  If everybody sounds the same, why NOT go with the low bidder?

“Company separates itself from the pack, closes more business.”

So, the lesson?  Large corporations are dumber than we think?  No.  Go through your marketing and ask painfully obvious questions-

Does your marketing message tell people what we do and what we sell quickly and clearly?

Does your website force people onto multiple pages to tell your whole story?

Do you treat prospective customers better than existing customers?

Are you easy to do business with?

Are you asking prospects to take some type of action?

Is the action you’re asking prospects to take appropriate action?

Don’t let the painfully obvious get the best of you!!