Author Archives: Nate

My Dad, the math superhero

I had a flashback memory earlier today from when I was a young boy, eating at Bill Knapp’s with my family. This was back in the day when the orders were handwritten in pencil on a paper order pad by the server, using whatever abbreviations they and the kitchen crew had worked out.

At the end of the meal, the server would bring that same order sheet to the table, now “the bill,” with the math calculated manually in pencil by the server. And then my Dad would double-check the math in his head.

Occasionally there would be a dispute over the math, and in my memory, my Dad was always right. But mainly I just thought it was so cool that he could do all of that math in his head, and I couldn’t wait for the day when I would be able to do that, too.

He was a math superhero.

And now I have an iPhone that will do the math for me…

Open During Remoldeling

Today, I passed a KFC that is obviously undergoing remodeling, but what caught my eye was the sign out in front of the restaurant, which said, “Drive thru open during remoldeling” (emphasis mine).

A couple of immediate thoughts I had…

  1. I don’t want any part of a food place that is “remoldeling.” One mold is bad enough; repeating it is worse.
  2. I definitely don’t want food prepped in a restaurant that is undergoing a remodel. “Would you like your chicken to be original recipe, extra crispy, or extra drywall dust? And would you prefer gravy or paint chips on your mashed potatoes?”

Just do us all a favor — close the restaurant while you remodel.

And fix the misspelling on your sign.

Only Time

When our son was a baby, we would frequently have music playing in his room at night, and very often, it would be the soothing music of Enya.

We played her music so much, in fact, that now, anytime I hear her song, Only Time, even ten years later, I have the most vivid memory of being up in the middle of the night feeding my son.

The lights were off in the room, except for a night light that provided a serene glow.

I was sitting in a bright green upholstered rocking chair that we bought before he was born to have in his room for moments such as this.

My son was snuggled in my arms, feeding quietly from a bottle.

My wife was in our bedroom next door, sleeping.

It was perfect.

Taking Seth Godin’s advice

On recent commutes, I’ve been working through one of Tim Ferris’ podcasts, with guest Seth Godin.

Two major things Seth has said so far about blogging have stuck with me:

  1. Blog every day. It doesn’t have to be a long post. Just post something.
  2. Turn off comments. You don’t have to interact with your readers about everything you write. Simply write for your own benefit.

So, starting with this blog post, I will take Seth’s advice. Here we go…

Rebirth book cover

Do any happy people do this thing?

Yesterday I started reading Kamal Ravikant’s book, Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart. From the book summary:

After the death of his estranged father, Amit takes his parent’s ashes to the Ganges to fulfill a deathbed promise. Instead of returning home, he wanders, his pain and grief leaving him confused about his future. Almost broke, unsure about his direction in life, and running from memories, he is led by fate to the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 550-mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain.

On Day One of his pilgrimage, Amit makes the following observation:

At the restaurant last night, when drunken pilgrims started sharing their reasons for this walk, all seemed to be going through something. Do any happy people do this thing?

I was struck by that question, “Do any happy people do this thing?” It occurred to me that if we were always comfortable and happy, we would probably never change anything or try something new. Why would we? We’re content with what we have. But difficulties and challenges force us to look at our lives and consider ways in which we need to change. From this, we try new things and have new experiences. And sometimes those new experiences bring us into the best journeys of our lives.

James MacDonald: Lean and Mean in 2017

This message was preached by Pastor James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel on December 31, 2016.

Lean and Mean in 2017

Lean and mean = free from foolish and futile distractions

  • Foolish — things that I know better than to give my time and attention to
  • Futile — things that have been proven to yield no benefit

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

These verses are about God’s will for you. These verses are declaring, without equivocation, that God has a plan for your life.

“For” is the Greek translation in the Septuagint for “gar,” meaning “because” — because the children of Israel are currently living captivity in Babylon. The children of Israel are questioning God’s plan for their lives and His control of their lives. Sound familiar?

God’s Plan for Me

It’s a reasoned plan

For [gar, because] I know the plans I have for you…”

It’s because of something that He controls, not me.

Jeremiah 29:8-10 (ESV) — For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in My name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. For [gar] thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you My promise and bring you back to this place.

God is saying, “In the darkest of nights, I was always working.”

It’s a divine plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

It’s God’s plan, and no one else’s

It’s a specific plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

God has a specific plan for you. We can take comfort from this.

Nothing is happening in my life that He hasn’t allowed. Everything that happens in my life had to pass over God’s approval desk.

God’s plan has little or nothing to do with the areas we generally focus on:

  • Geography — where I live; which house I buy
  • Work — where I’m supposed to work; which job offer to accept
  • Marriage — who I should marry

Ephesians 5:17 (ESV) — Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (ESV) — We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (ESV) — For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.

The will of God is the Word of God. If God wanted to tell me, He would have put it in His Word.

God’s will for me is about the kind of person He’s trying to make me into.

It’s a personal plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

Just because it isn’t specific doesn’t mean it isn’t personal. Personal = God knows where I’m weak, where I’m deficient, where my character is strong and where it’s coming up short, where I will be tested and challenged in the coming days. God’s plan includes my preparation for victory on those points!

God is trying to change me so that He can prepare me for the specific things I will face in the year to come. That’s what the will of the Lord is.

It’s a settled plan

“…declares the LORD…”

When God speaks, everyone listens.

God is not making suggestions or offering things for consideration — “I know the plans I have for you!”

Someone’s in charge; it’s not me. Have I resigned as chairman of the board of my life yet?

It’s a beautiful plan

“…plans for your welfare…”

Welfare here means wellbeing, or peace.

It’s not a plan for evil. James 1:13 (ESV) — Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.

God’s plans for me are not evil.

This doesn’t mean that His plans for me are not hard or frustrating at times, or will require waiting in faith.

God’s plan is to give me a future and a hope, because my commitment to God’s plan in my life will be tested.

It’s a plan that produces praise

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you.”

This is a statement of praise!

It’s a plan that produces surrender

“You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”

In 2017, God has a plan to get you further down the road of total surrender to Him.

Things that you think are over, are not over. Things that you think are done, are not done.

Ezekiel 37:1-6 (ESV) — The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

I am ______

Today I am…

Today is January 20, 2017, the Inauguration Day when Donald J. Trump has taken the oath of office and become the 45th President of the United States. This is a day fraught with emotion for many people, so I want to record my thoughts for today.

Today I am…

…convinced that God is in control

God has made it clear in the Bible that He has not only established government, but that He also controls who is in charge of government.

Romans 13:1

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

Psalm 22:27-28

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD. All the families of the nations will bow down before You, for kingship belongs to the LORD; He rules the nations.

Romans 9:17

For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in the whole earth.

Daniel 2:20-21

May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 4:17

This word is by decree of the watchers, and the decision is by command from the Holy Ones. This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone He wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.

Isaiah 45:1

The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and disarm kings, to open doors before him, and even city gates will not be shut: “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD. I am the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. I call you by your name, for the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Proverbs 21:1

A king’s heart is like channeled water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.

Matthew 28:18

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

…thankful for President Obama’s service and leadership

Whether or not you agreed with his politics or policies, I believe that President Obama led this nation with courage and grace. He loved his wife and daughters with a deep commitment. He respected others and encouraged diversity. And he leaves the office with a legacy that is unmarked by personal scandal.

…praying for our new President, Donald J. Trump

I watched President Trump’s inaugural address today, and tried my best to do so with an open mind. I am praying for him as he leads our nation, that he will have integrity, wisdom, courage, and compassion. I acknowledge his position as president, and support him and submit to his leadership, as we are instructed to do in Scripture.

1 Timothy 2:1-3

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it please God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Jeremiah 29:7

Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

…thankful to live in America

May I not take for granted this peaceful transition of power as one president leaves office and another takes the office.

May I not take for granted the opportunity to be involved in the election process, regardless of the outcome.

May I not take for granted the right to speak freely.

May I not take for granted the joy of worshiping God and attending church freely.

May I not take for granted the privilege that it is to be an American.

…looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ reigns forever

I know that I will not live in this world forever. My time on earth is limited. Yet I also have the promise and assurance of a blessed eternal life with God my Savior.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a Child will be born for us, a Son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.

Revelation 19:11-16

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes ware with justice. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Finally, I close with this prayer of our first president, George Washington:

Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally, that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Books

2017 Reading Challenge

Tim Challies has issued the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge, “designed to help you read more and to broaden the scope of your reading.” In the challenge, Tim provides suggestions in a checklist format of different types of books to read.

The challenge offers four levels:

  • The Light Reader — read 13 books in a year, or 1 book every 4 weeks
  • The Avid Reader — read 26 books in a year, or 1 book every 2 weeks
  • The Committed Reader — read 52 books in a year, or 1 book every week
  • The Obsessed Reader — read 104 books in a year, or 2 books every week

Since I enjoy reading, and keeping track of which books I’ve read, I’ve decided to try this challenge in 2017.

I’ll be using Evernote, one of my favorite tools, to keep Tim’s list of recommendations, and to keep track of what I’ve read. You can view my progress at bit.ly/NTD-2017-Reading-Challenge.

You can also monitor the hashtag #vtReadingChallenge on social media to see what others are doing.

Will you join us?

Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural address

Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address

The following is the inaugural address that Ronald Reagan gave on January 20, 1981, when he began his first term as President of the United States.

Senator Hatfield, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President Bush, Vice President Mondale, Senator Baker, Speaker O’Neill, Reverend Moomaw, and my fellow citizens:

To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.

Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.

The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.

Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery, and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.

But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we’re not bound by that same limitation? We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding: We are going to be begin to act, beginning today.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we’ve had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

We hear much of special interest groups. Well, our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we’re sick — professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, “We the people,” this breed called Americans.

Well, this administration’s objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans, with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs. All must share in the productive work of this “new beginning,” and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy. With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world.

So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has a government — not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.

We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are not heroes, they just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter, and they’re on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They’re individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet, but deep. Their values sustain our national life.

Now, I have used the words “they” and “their” in speaking of these heroes. I could say “you” and “your,” because I’m addressing the heroes of whom I speak — you, the citizens of this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration, so help me God.

We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen; and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?

Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic “yes.” To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I’ve just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world’s strongest economy.

In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken, aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government. Progress may be slow, measured in inches and feet, not miles, but we will progress. It is time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles there will be no compromise.

On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow Americans, “Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of… On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

Dr. Joseph Warren

Dr. Joseph Warren

Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.

As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever.

Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

I’m told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I’m deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.

This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

West Front of the U.S. Capitol

West Front of the U.S. Capitol

Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man, George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then, beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.

Under one such marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire.

We’re told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words: “America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”

The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.

And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.

God bless you, and thank you.

Faces of Customer Satisfaction

Collecting, Analyzing, and Acting on Customer Satisfaction Data with Salesforce Visual Flow

I recently worked with a team that had to share news with their customers and partners that could negatively impact the customer’s satisfaction with the company’s products and, ultimately, their relationship.

While the team spent a lot of time preparing the talking points and prepping their sales team on how to share the news, I realized that a key component was missing:

How would the customers feel or respond to this news?

I thought these were important reactions that we should try to collect and analyze, which would then give the team insight as to what to do next.

Requirements

My requirements were as follows:

  1. Make the data collection process standardized. While we wanted to be able to gather actual comments from customers, I also knew we would need to provide the sales team with a simple scale to categorize the customer’s response to the news. This would give us a way to interpret whether the reactions were favorable or negative.
  2. Make the data collection process actionable. Whenever you collect data, you always want to keep in mind how you can make the data actionable. At the very least, this means the ability to use the data to create reports, charts, and dashboards for the leadership team to stay informed and make decisions. Taking it a step further, would there be “triggers” in this process that might call for some type of timely follow up?
  3. Make the data collection process simple. As much as possible, we wanted this to be part of the sales team’s regular workflow that would take just a minute or two of their time.
  4. Make the data collection process mobile. We realized that many of the discussions would be handled face-to-face, so the salesperson would need to be able to provide a quick update on their smartphone or tablet.

The first two requirements — standardized and actionable — were the most important. The last two requirements — simple and mobile — could be optional requirements under certain circumstances, but in this case, I knew we had the tools available to make these requirements possible.

First, I wanted to address the most important requirements. To make the data standardized, I wanted to provide the sales team with a simple scale to categorize the customer’s response to the news. It had to have just a few options that would be easy for the sales team to select from.

The simple scale we settled on was:

  • Positive
  • Neutral
  • Negative

To make the data actionable, I knew we would be able to take the responses from this very basic scale and develop a simple chart that would show the percentages responding to each option: positive, neutral, or negative. We would also want to be able to connect each response to an individual salesperson and to an individual contact at a customer, so that we could pull in other information for our dashboards — percent of customers contacted; percent of key customers contacted; number of customer contacts by salesperson; etc.

But beyond charts and dashboards, there were other actionable triggers we could consider.

If someone had a negative response to the news, we should flag them for follow-up by someone on the leadership team. To simplify the follow-up, we would assign it to the salesperson’s manager. They could then review the information and decide if they would follow up on their own, or send it on to another member of the leadership team.

If someone had a positive response to the news, we should flag them for follow-up for a customer testimonial. We could then assign this to a member of the marketing team.

Now, with these requirements and ideas in mind, I could turn to the tool that would make all of this possible: Salesforce.com Visual Flow.

Developing the Solution

To make the process simple for the salesperson, I created a custom button on the Contact page in Salesforce, called “Relationship Update.” Clicking this button would start the Visual Flow, which would present the salesperson with the data collection process. Placing the button on the Contact record in Salesforce made it easy for a salesperson to access during their interaction with the customer.

And because it’s built in Salesforce, it automatically checks the box of making the process mobile.

I wanted to present a simple data collection form for the salesperson to fill out, collecting the following data:

  1. Date of Contact (defaulting to today’s date, but changeable if they need to add older information)
  2. Three radio buttons to classify the Relationship Status:
    • Positive
    • Neutral
    • Negative
  3. A large text box to collect any additional Comments

Now to the “fun stuff” of what the Visual Flow would automatically do in the background with that data:

  1. Update a Relationship Picklist field that I had created on the Account record, which would in turn update a Formula Text field on the Account record that would display a text version of a stoplight image:
    • a green Positive
    • a yellow Neutral
    • a red Negative
  2. Create an Activity History record with:
    • A standard Subject line (making reporting easier)
    • The selected Status in the Subject line
    • The Comments in the Description
    • The Date and User
    • Link to the Related Contact and Account records
  3. Post the Comments to the Account’s Chatter feed with a Topic of #RelationshipStatus so that users can subscribe to the Topic and receive updates as they happen.
  4. If a Status of Negative is selected, send an email to the user’s manager, including the Comments, so that the manager is aware and can follow-up or escalate as appropriate.
  5. If a Status of Positive is selected, present the user with a second screen, asking if this Contact might provide us with a good testimonial. If the user selects the Yes radio button, a Task is created for a member of the marketing team. If the user selects the No radio button, no Task is created.

Implementing the Solution

Thankfully, with the tools that Salesforce provides, implementing this solution was quick and relatively simple. I presented the idea to the sales leadership team and got their approval on Wednesday afternoon, I developed and tested the tools in Salesforce on Thursday, and we trained the sales team on how to use it on Friday morning.

And because simplicity was a key focus of the solution, it was easy for the sales team to understand the process and use it — we spent about 15 minutes providing them with a demonstration, and then allowing them to enter sample records into a Sandbox environment.

Results of the Solution

Overwhelmingly, this was a positive solution for the company. I say this not for my own benefit as the person who developed and implemented it, but because it would have been useless had not the sales team done such a great job of contacting their customers and using this process to provide valuable information to the company.

We quickly started to see the benefits of gathering this information:

  • Thanks to the reports and dashboards, we were able to monitor the positive/neutral/negative feedback scale, and realize that just over 90% of the customers contacted had a positive or neutral reaction to the news and feeling about the future of the company.
  • Thanks to the reports and dashboards, we were able to create a contest among the sales team regarding who could make the most customer contacts within given time periods. It’s amazing how an inexpensive gift card or coffee mug can bring out the competitiveness among a good sales team.
  • Thanks to the triggers, we were able to flag any negative responses for follow-up by the management team, helping to alleviate some of the fears that customers had and assuring them of the company’s plan to manage the situation. This also helped the leadership team understand the areas that most bothered customers or led to misinformation, so they could be sure to clarify those in press releases or FAQs.
  • Thanks to the triggers, we were able to flag any positive responses for follow-up by the marketing team, and received some very encouraging comments from customers who were committed to remaining customers of the company.
  • Thanks to the comments and hashtag being added to the Chatter feed, we were able to “at-mention” other users (@username) and bring them into conversations about feedback from specific customers. For example, one customer mentioned some negative information their employees had received from a third-party vendor. We were able to bring the company employee who managed that vendor relationship into the discussion on the Chatter feed, they were able to follow up with the vendor to provide them with correct information, and helped resolve an issue that we would otherwise not been aware of.
  • Thanks to all of the information coming in, we were able to work with the marketing team to create posters that were then posted around the company’s building — near employee entrances, in the elevators, etc. The poster included the customer sentiment chart (positive/neutral/negative), as well as some of the testimonials we were able to gather. This allowed employees who didn’t regularly interact with key customers to see the overwhelmingly positive response to the information, and helped boost morale across the company at a dark time.

Takeaway

Even when managing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, it can be easy to lose sight of capturing more than customer demographic or purchase data. But with the right mindset, priorities, and tools, you can also capture customer sentiment and feedback, which can add a new level of insight into your company’s performance and the strength of your customer relationship.