Most of us have large reading lists. There are the case studies our bosses would like us to read. There are the trade publications, whether in print format or online PDF, that we need to read to keep up with industry trends. There are the e-zines that appear in our email boxes in a never-ending stream. And, of course, there are the books we’d love to read in our leisure time – whenever that happens. But there are five books you must add to your reading list for 2013. These five extraordinary books focus on marketing, social media, employee engagement, customer experiences, leadership, and strategic planning – and they’re must-reads if you want 2013 to be the year that your business stands out from the competition!
 WHO’S YOUR GLADYS? by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest
Customer service experts Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest have written an excellent guidebook to teach readers how to improve customer service. One theme resonated throughout the book whose subtitle was How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan: “Do your customers care if you live or die? You definitely want that answer to be yes.” The second theme was the concept that tomorrow’s CEO may really be a Chief Experience Officer – and despite how technology evolves, people will still value businesses that understand, value, and provide excellent customer service. In the chapter entitled, “The Tea Service Tells the Story,” an interesting aspect of the interview process for Singapore Airlines was shared. A group of potential hires was led into a conference room and asked to wait. Hiring managers watched from an adjoining room through one-way glass. In the conference room, chairs were placed against the walls, but there was a table in the middle of the room with a tea pot and cups. The hiring managers wanted to see who would start conversations and serve tea to others, because those were the people who demonstrated the commitment to service that Singapore Airlines expects of its employees. Upon completion of this book, you will definitely want some upset customers so that you can apply the lessons learned.
 ALL IN by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton
In All In – How the Best Managers Create a Culture of Belief and Drive Big Results, the secret is out of the bag: Culture is what makes teams and organizations great. According to Gostick and Elton, “Whether you manage the smallest of teams or a multi-continent organization, you’re the proud owner of a culture. If it is clear, positive, and strong, then your people will buy into your ideas, and most important, will believe what they do matters and that they can make a difference. On the other hand, if your culture is dysfunctional – chaotic, combative, or indifferent – employees will spend more time thinking about why the people sitting next to them should be fired rather than getting fired up themselves.” Consider this example from the book: A company recognized excellent work by employees with a band featuring drummers and brass instruments. The band would walk around the company, and at every opportunity, more and more employees would join the “marching band.” But, best of all, the CEO actually led the band and would stop at the star employee’s desk to recognize the individual’s accomplishment. What does your business do to recognize employee achievements?
 THE CMO MANIFESTO by John Ellett
This book addresses how to be a successful change agent. When a new marketing leader joins a business, results are expected immediately, which is impossible. According to John Ellett, “In some companies, being a change agent means dramatic and disruptive change, impacting brand strategy, product plans, channel partners, and communications programs. In others, that means sustained and incremental change focusing on executional improvements within the marketing organization. But in all cases, the change impacts strategy, execution, organizational structure, people, processes, and systems.” So how can anyone ever be successful as a change agent? A detailed 100-day action plan for marketing change agents is provided. The elements include: clarifying expectations, determining key goals, determining how success will be measured, discussing the magnitude of change that the individual is expected to lead, determining what resources will be available, defining decision-making, and interacting with the boss. John concludes the book with a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary, “People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” The truth is, change agents can become extraordinary – but only if they are armed with an action plan.
 THE STRATEGIST by Cynthia A. Montgomery
In The Strategist – Be the Leader Your Business Needs, readers are urged to embrace the role of strategist and confront the most compelling questions at the heart of their businesses. “The strategist is the one who bears the responsibility for setting a firm’s course and making the choices day after day that continuously refine that course. That is why strategy and leadership must be REUNITED at the highest level of an organization…What’s been forgotten is that strategy is not a destination or a solution. It’s a journey. It needs continuous, not intermittent, leadership. It needs a strategist.” Montgomery posed difficult questions: If your company disappeared today, would the world be dramatically different in the days ahead? Would your customers miss your product or service? If your customers wouldn’t miss you when you’re gone, how much do they really need you NOW? If you don’t possess this uniqueness, then you’re missing a strategy – which begins with a clear business purpose. By the time you’ve completed the book, you will be asking: Does your company have a strategy statement that explains your purpose, means of competition, and unique advantages? If not, you know the work that needs to be done.
 SOCIAL BUSINESS EXCELLENCE by Vala Afshar and Brad Martin
This book reinforces a number of key business mantras that you can find in different shapes and sizes in Vala Afshar’s blog posts and tweets. As the Chief Customer Officer for Enterasys, Vala represents the alignment of customer and employee engagement. If your business strives to deliver greater value and better serve your customers, there were three requirements described in the book. One requirement was for the leadership team to live their culture. For example, communication should be implemented company-wide not just for specific departments, employee recognition should be on-going and substantive, and new employees should be welcomed. Another requirement was to make every employee accountable for customer success, which meant that employee training was critical, and again, communication did not jam. A third requirement was the interaction between employees and customers, which created a Voice of the Customer (VOC) strategy. This allowed for customers to get technical support, provide product ideas, and collaborate on improving the customer service experience. As Vala says on Twitter: Don’t do social, be SOCIAL: sincere, open, collaborative, interested, authentic, and likeable. This tweet perfectly sums up Social Business Excellence.
In the words of Dr. Seuss, “The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”