Poor customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves, and lord knows, we encounter it virtually every day. Here’s my most memorable recent example, largely because of the sheer silliness of the situation. I visited Sel de la Terre Boulangerie, an upscale bakery serving gourmet breads, pastries, sandwiches and coffee.
- My offense: I ordered a medium coffee in a large cup so that it doesn’t spill in my car.
- The response: With a straight face, the cashier rang up a large because “we need to charge you for the extra milk you will be using.”
Brilliant – annoy a customer over a measly…get this…10 cents. Once I realized she was serious (which took an awkward 10 seconds or so), I dropped the extra dime on the counter and walked away, never to return. (There are at least 5 other places within close proximity serving as good or better coffee.)
Now for a positive spin. Because of this experience and countless others like it, we have come to expect such treatment, which is why it’s even more noteworthy when someone representing a company or brand surprises and delights you. And since the Thanksgiving season is all about showing gratitude and giving thanks, I want to call attention to someone, who on multiple occasions, has gone way above and beyond in providing me with superior service. His name is Kyle Cunningham, manager of the AT&T Mobility store at the Natick Collection in Natick, MA. For all of the legitimate criticism of AT&T’s shoddy 3G network and customer unfriendly policies, this guy makes up for all of it, and then some.
A bit of background. My BlackBerry Bold is near death. Despite OS upgrades, the device is super sluggish, has memory leak issues, and is powered by two almost completely drained batteries. Time for a new phone.
- The problem: I am not eligible for an iPhone 3Gs for another 5 months, and the “powers that be” will make no exceptions to this policy. Sound familiar?
- The solution: The best offer AT&T could make is $399 for the 12GB version, and only if I extend my contract for another 2 years. That is $200 more than the price I’d pay if I were eligible.
Sheer stupidity. I can cancel my account for $175 ($24 less), walk over to Verizon – whose network is far more reliable – port over my mobile number, and get a brand spanking new Motorola Droid for $200 with a 2-yr commitment. In other words, AT&T is telling a customer who has always paid on time, has 2 accounts (my wife is also a subscriber), and spends well more than the monthly average, that it will give him $24 to take a hike and go its biggest competitor. I guess AT&T doesn’t use CRM, segment its customer base, or care about retention or loyalty. Or if it does, it doesn’t know how to apply these tools and disciplines to real world situations. Maybe instead of spending time, money and resources on suing Verizon for false advertising, AT&T should focus its efforts on serving its customers.
Now that I got the marketing jargon in, back to the story. Despite it all, I am still with AT&T, because quite simply, Kyle provides the absolute best customer service on the planet. Having worked for mobile app company, WorldMate, I called on Kyle countless times over the past two years. In this particular case, Kyle not only did everything in his power short of risking his job, but he also offered to lend me his virtually brand new Bold until I am upgrade eligible. How often do you experience that caliber of service? I am 36 years old, and so far, just once in my lifetime. With nonsense business practices that create negative switching costs, AT&T puts an unfair burden on Kyle to keep subscriber attrition in check. I’m sure upper management doesn’t realize how lucky they are to have him.
In the spirit of the holiday, please express your appreciation to those who’ve served you well in the past year. If we let these folks know and share our stories with others (it’s as easy as a tweet or brief mention in conversation), just maybe kick-ass service will start to become a trend.
Yesterday evening, I attended an MIT Enterprise Forum session on Marketing & Adoption Challenges, featuring presentations from the following:
- Seth Priebatsch (CEO, SCVNGR). SCVNGR is a super cool, turnkey hyper-local mobile gaming platform with a high level of cross-device and OS portability.
- Chuck Goldman (CEO, Apperian). Apperian is a Boston-based iPhone app development shop founded by former Apple execs.
- Jaime Thompson (President, Pongr). Pongr is a service that connects users with brands when they snap a picture with their mobile camera and share with friends via social networks. Pongr’s differentiators include proprietary image recognition technology and cross-carrier MMS interoperability.
- Jack Kelly (CEO, Adva Mobile). Adva Mobile is an app that enables music artists to engage fans on their mobile phones.
As you’d expect, during the panel discussion that ensued following the presentations, the challenge of discoverability was the most prominent theme. As folks in the industry well know, OS/platform fragmentation and incompatibility issues create a ceiling on viral sharing. Case in point – despite the aura and popularity of the iPhone, 93% of smartphone users don’t have one* and cannot download and use apps in the iTunes store. So while word of mouth can be potent, fueled by Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels, you cannot simply refer an app to all of your friends.
*Note: This figure excludes iPod Touch handsets
One obvious solution would be some standardization agreed upon by the device manufacturers (a la the Blu-ray for high definition DVD), but we all know that isn’t going to happen given Apple’s obsession with control and closed software environment. And therein lies an opportunity….for Google.
Thanks to a media blitz, largely funded by Verizon Wireless (it finally has a venerable contender to the iPhone), the Motorola Droid will be the impetus to take Google’s mobile platform, Android, mainstream. While Google’s open platform strategy is the antithesis to Apple’s, like Apple it promises seamless integration with its software and tools, including Gmail, Google docs and the Google chrome browser. The next logical question: what about Search?
Imagine you do a web search for “Flight Delays Kennedy Airport” (maybe the query should be “Flights not delayed to/from Kennedy”), wouldn’t it be useful if in addition to a list of notoriously problematic flights and current delays, there was a list of mobile apps that offer flight delay notifications? In this particular case, TripIt, WorldMate, FlightTrack, TripCase, TripChill, etc. might appear. As Chuck Goldman points out, Google would have access only to apps created for Android and not to those in iTunes or other “closed” app stores where the meta data associated with the downloads isn’t accessible. And Google, much like iPhone, will take time to penetrate the market and capture meaningful share. That said, unless Apple wants to cede this competitive advantage indefinitely, it is in its best interest to lift the walls around iTunes and allow web bots to crawl and index its pages.
What do you think? Will Google’s approach with Android be the catalyst to solve discoverability for mobile app pure plays? If so, is there any hope for virality? Please share any comments and ideas you have.
Your products, 1 million of them produced since 1999 (that’s right, a 10-year time span), have been blamed for amputating fingers of infants and toddlers. You “do the right thing” by undertaking a massive recall and setting up a dedicated phone line and web landing page, where customers can self-educate and order replacement parts. The message spreads like wildfire through the web, propelled by engaged and vocal moms via social media channels.
Recalls are never welcome news, especially ones that imply our children were in harm’s way. But, unless flaws were the result of gross negligence and/or led to numerous fatalities or serious injuries, people are forgiving and don’t abandon companies with an otherwise solid track record. After all, product design is an imperfect science. This of course assumes the company works diligently to resolve the problem.
The scenario: a fairly typical case study in corporate crisis management. Your goal: to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and minimize damage to the brand’s reputation. Handled effectively, the incident is a mere hiccup in the company’s history. Have a miscue in your disaster management plan? You add fuel to the fire, resulting in negative word-of-mouth and bad will…and quite possibly customer disloyalty that impacts earnings for years.
Following Maclaren USA’s announcement this morning, the company made perhaps the most fundamental oversight prior to going public with the news. The most obvious and supposedly reliable place to obtain detailed information on the recall (its website) was flooded with traffic and has been down ever since (as of 5pm EST).
I have no idea what a recall of 1mm strollers will cost Maclaren, but I do know a dedicated server capable of supporting the surge in bandwidth would add nominally to the final bill. Instead of what should have been a 10-minute exercise learning about the recall and ordering the appropriate kit for their models (nine models in total are affected), moms and dads (and grandmas and grandpas) everywhere were shut out and instead relied on the media to accurately relay the message. In my experience, it won’t take much for the broken communication over this non-trivial safety matter to translate to loss of trust and business, especially amongst Type A, educated consumers in a market increasingly crowded by trendy strollers.
Am I over-dramatizing? I encourage loving parents and communications professionals everywhere to share their thoughts…
I am extremely fortunate to be attending what is certain to be one of best conferences of the year, TEDMED 2009, being held at the Hotel del Coronado next week from Oct 27 – 30. For starters, if you are familiar with TED, you know attendees are always in for a treat. To be honest, I have attended only one TED event in the past, TEDxBoston this past July, and I was simply blown away by the degree of innovative thinking, caliber of presentations, and passion of those involved. (Note: TED and TEDMED are independent organizations, which share the same founder, Richard Saul Wurman.)
So after a five-year hiatus, Marc Hodosh and Richard Saul Wurman are re-launching TEDMED focused squarely on remarkable people, their ideas, and their inventions in the fields of medicine and health care. I expect the TEDMED sessions to be nothing short of inspirational and uplifting, because the common underlying mission is to improve quality and length of life in ways and to degrees that many technology products and services simply cannot. And there couldn’t be a more relevant time as President Obama and Congress work to bring a historic health care reform package to the finish line. A total of 54 speakers will open the minds of TEDMED attendees to the world of opportunities and possibilities in this fascinating field. Below is a small peek at what’s in store, a very short list of speakers and their speech topics:
- Ezekiel Emanuel, Special Advisor for Health Policy, OMB, Executive Office of President Obama –Can We Reform Health Care In America?
- Dean Kamen, President, DEKA Research & Development – Can A Prosthesis Be Better Than The Real Thing?
- Deepak Chopra, Chairman & Co-Founder, Chopra Center for Wellbeing – Can You Yourself Change Your Genes?
- Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN – Can Media Deliver Accurate & Trusted Medical Information?
- Paul Jacobs – Chairman & CEO, Qualcomm – What Does A Wireless Band-Aid Do?
- David Pogue – Technology Columnist, New York Times – Can My iPhone Save My Life?
- Keith Black – Chairman of Neurosurgery, Cedar-Sinai Medical Center – Can Neurosurgery Be Non-Invasive?
I’ll end on a slightly more personal note. Aside from the reasons already mentioned, I expect to find TEDMED especially refreshing. As someone who spends a great deal of time staying abreast of the latest digital strategies and communication tools (social media alone warrants a significant personal investment), I don’t have much time to attend product-oriented conferences. Don’t get me wrong. I became a B2C marketer for the opportunity to directly interact and engage, build relationships, earn trust, etc. But sometimes by being so customer-centric, I don’t fully appreciate many of the extraordinary breakthroughs in modern science and technology, or the brilliance behind them.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone on a rant about Starbucks (nor will it be the last I’m sure). Each time I feel slightly guilty, because it’s not uncommon for me to blog from Starbucks. Then again, they get more than a fair share of my wallet, so I’ll get over it by the time I’m midway through this post.
The subject of this rant is the Starbucks Card. First, some background. The card itself offers customers the convenience of electronic currency, though I’m pretty sure baristas get screwed on tips now that fewer customers are dipping into their pockets and receiving loose change. Registering a Starbucks Card means creating an online account where contact details, credit card info, etc. are stored. This gives you access to free Wi-Fi, lets you avoid $0.40 surcharges for soy milk, and enables you to auto-reload your card. This last feature could backfire for certain folks who are super-vigilant of their credit cards transactions (as I am). In fact, ever since I saw how often Starbucks was charging my card 20 bucks, I’ve cut back, perhaps not on my total caffeine consumption, but certainly in downgrades from espresso drinks to house blends and dark roasts.
No, I’m not complaining that Starbucks has made me more financially responsible. As a marketer, I am in disbelief that the company has not better seized the opportunity that registered card holders present. It’s a database marketer’s dream to have access to such a wealth of customer data, including purchase history, buying habits, personal preferences, etc. We’re talking about brand evangelists here, engaged and loyal clientele who are presumably the most receptive to special promotions and offers. Why not a rewards program? A referral incentive? Or dare I say something even more tailored and creative – “Because you like X, we think you’ll like Y, so here’s a one-time coupon.” I have my “regular” drink, but I’m always open to something new.
This is just another example how Starbucks has vastly underutilized the power of CRM. As far as I can tell, aside from an occasional offer to complete a survey and receive a free drink (which may be completely random anyway), I’m not aware of any targeting that Starbucks does to uniquely position its product to the various customer segments it reaches.
Recently I met up with Leah Busque, internet entrepreneur and Founder & CEO of Cambridge, MA based RUNmyERRAND (view recent appearance on Hubspot TV). Prior to our meeting, I was astounded that a math and science grad who had spent virtually her entire career (7 years) as an IBM engineer, had conceived of the on-demand errand service just a year and a half ago. You’d never know it by the traction and buzz RUNmyERRAND has already generated, albeit limited to the local Boston market (for now). After our 1 ½ hours together, it was clear Leah is not your stereotypical engineer. Putting her passion, energy, resourcefulness, keen business instincts, and acquired marketing acumen to work, Leah has almost singlehandedly created a solid foundation for success. Aside from Leah’s impressive leadership qualities, here’s a short list of what RUNmyERRAND has in its corner:
- Clear and Compelling Value Proposition. The demands for our time and expectations for results are greater than ever. Leah has done a fabulous job addressing the various target personas and messaging how the service works. The site’s branding, look-and-feel and ease-of-use were initially what caught my eye.
- fbFUND Winner. RUNmyERRAND was the only east-coast fbFUND finalist. Being selected for such a prestigious program has afforded the company unique opportunities. Leah has had the privilege of tapping into Facebook wisdom and resources. Networking opportunities abound, it also means she stands a far better chance than most to raise additional funding when needed.
- Zipcar Synergy. Fortune Magazine recently named Zipcar the best new idea in business, and Zipcar’s Scott Griffith is on RUNmyERRAND’s Advisory Board (along with Timothy Ferris, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek). Like Zipcar, RUNmyERRAND promotes green living by reducing urban transportation (in this case by consolidating errands to fewer individuals). Hence, RUNmyERRAND has participated in Zipcar marketing campaigns, including the recent Low-Car Diet Challenge, for which the company gave away free “runner credits” to reduce the urge for participants to take back their cars. RUNmyERRAND will likely follow in Zipcar’s footsteps and only expand to other cities once its initial hyperlocal model (relying on demographics, supply/demand economics and other operational logistics) is optimized in Boston.
If the points above don’t have you convinced that RUNmyERRAND has great start towards a bright future, consider this. Though it’s an ambitious endeavor to say the least, think about how useful it would be to have an auction site like eBay, but focused on services instead of products. Or put another way, imagine an online exchange version of CraigsList.
What do you think? Are there other impressive startups meeting this need? Please share your thoughts…
I love reading books. These days, mostly business books, as time allows. And yes for me, a good part of the experience is physically holding the book and turning the pages. I have heard the same argument for newspapers and magazines, whose recent demise is well documented. In their case, they’re not only readily available online but also easily customized to an individual’s preferences through RSS feeds, Google Alerts, etc. Thus, digital is well on its way to supplanting the hard copies available at your local newsstand.
On the other hand, good business books start with a foundation and build on those core concepts, illustrating with examples and case studies along the way. Hence, you miss out on important takeaways if you don’t read a book cover to cover. And let’s face it, no one wants to read a 200+ page book on a computer.
Enter the Kindle and all of the look-a-like e-book readers that have started and will continue to penetrate the market over the months to come, and you have the perfect example of disruptive technology. While I don’t own a Kindle as of yet (I’m usually an early follower when it comes to gadgets and wait for the price to drop a bit before I jump in), my friends and colleagues tell me they read more quickly and it’s easy on the eyes. Apparently digital ink technology has eliminated one of the top reasons to do your reading offline.
Now, let’s use the following evolution of movie rentals/ownership…
Blockbuster –> Netflix (via mail) –> Video on Demand (VOD)
…as an analogy to see how it relates and whether it can help us predict the future of printed books and bookstores:
- Instant gratification – Because the internet is accessible 24/7, consumers have grown accustomed to getting what they want in real-time. Netflix pioneered cost-effective overnight delivery of movies, and now along with the broadband providers, is moving its library to VOD. Let’s face it, if you have some free time now, would you rather spend it traveling to the book store or downloading the title at the top of your list and reading the first few chapters?
- Convenience – Netflix made it simple to return movies without incurring late fees. When you’re on vacation or in your second office (i.e. the airplane), the Kindle stores all of the books on your reading list and weighs far less.
- Scarcity of time and space – Except for a select few real classics, most people don’t watch the same movie more than once in a short time frame. Hence, it makes little sense to own a movie, especially since Netflix has removed the pain points from the return process and the marginal cost of re-renting a Netflix movie later on is nearly zero (under most price plans). Similarly, while some folks like keeping good books on display at home or in the office, the trend towards urban living and cubicles means space is at a premium. (Trust me, it hurts me to say this, as I have dreamed of having a library in my future home. I really worry that our society will lose all of its character, and our abodes will resemble sterile laboratories in the not too distant future.)
You might claim the analogy is flawed in that, my definition of “movie” is as a secondary market (i.e. for the most part, movies are available on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD only after they have hit the theater), while books, by nature, address a primary market (i.e. there is no previously released version). It’s true some consumers watch a movie on the big screen and then rent it again at home (largely due to the low cost). There’s no doubt an e-book has similar residual value (as a reference tool or refresher), because it’s difficult to absorb and digest all key learnings after just one read. However, since you don’t have to return an e-book as you do a movie rental, this argument doesn’t hold weight.
So what’s my conclusion? Book stores will not disappear in the very near future; some genres with illustrations and other characteristics that appeal to the senses (e.g. travel books, cookbooks, children’s books, some novels) will still be preferable in hard copy. But if the Barnes & Noble’s of the world know what’s good for them, they had better innovate more quickly than Blockbuster has in this decade. Providing couches and chairs where shoppers lounge, sip lattes and leisurely preview the latest best sellers is not a viable business strategy. Further investment in e-commerce is insufficient. And with all of that costly real estate on their hands, they can ill afford to be defensive and simply rely on imitation Kindles to save their legacy businesses.
In my last post, I blogged about how a relatively unknown brand, Forzieri, integrated innovative product marketing tactics into its e-commerce solution. Staying on this same theme, I recently had a surprisingly positive experience on JCrew.com. It’s been many months since I visited the site, so it’s quite possible JCrew has been doing this for a while.
I was looking for a pair of men’s shorts and clicked on a specific item on the initial results page to get the product details. Most websites selling apparel include a basic description and a size chart, but JCrew added a real personal touch. Beneath the button to add the item to my shopping bag, was the caption “Not sure about size? Need help putting it all together? Email Erica, our personal shopping expert, at Erica@jcrew.com.”
As I suspected, it turns out “Erica” is not a single person but rather an alias for a staff of personal shoppers who field questions and answer via email (as opposed to by phone in a call center). I was a bit disheartened, because I really would have liked to see JCrew pull that off. Nevertheless, when I am in the mindset of shopping online, I prefer to interact and transact electronically end-to-end versus interrupting the flow by making a phone call. As I argue in my previous post, I believe that’s where Zappos gets it wrong.
Granted there was latency while I awaited a response from “Erica,” whereas a call center rep might have answered my questions in real-time. But whether perception or reality, JCrew had me convinced “Erica” would be better equipped to answer my question. Hence, it would be worthwhile awaiting her response, which arrived about 5 hours later and included her direct contact details, both phone and email.
My guess is this feature isn’t widely used (it’s a bit buried on the page), because I don’t get how it would scale, especially since there is no form, or at the very least, instructions on what information to include in your email. That said, I am convinced a meaningful segment of online consumers will see this as a refreshing alternative to picking up the phone and speaking to an agent, whose performance is largely being measured on standard call center metrics (i.e. production, efficiency and sales).
I’m sure many others are laughing along with me as Comcast and Verizon spend ridiculous amounts of money attacking each other on TV, stretching truths and greatly exaggerating the other’s fallbacks. As is true of virtually all negative advertising, the message about customer benefits gets diluted in all the bickering. When it concepted the campaign, Verizon likely was aiming to replicate Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad series success, portraying a Verizon technician as cool and clean cut, and his Comcast counterpart as disheveled, overweight, and anything but hip.
But alas, Verizon is no Apple. Apple delights with elegantly designed products and fuels demand with brilliantly executed clean and bold marketing. Verizon is inherently disadvantaged as a tech hardware and infrastructure company. There’s no argument it provides cool services, but it cannot create the same emotional connection, because these days a landline phone connection is BORING, wired broadband is a commodity, and credit for the sharp picture in your living room goes to your high quality HDTV.
But enough with the Apple comparison, as that is not the focus of this post. My point is simple. The hoards of cash Verizon and Comcast are spending to one-up the other in this fight would be far better invested in sophisticated CRM systems.
No question, price and number of HD channels are two factors to consider when choosing a cable provider. And internet speed is important. But at the end of the day, are the companies’ capabilities really all that different? On the other hand, if you buy a bundled package (i.e. at least 2 of these 3 – phone, internet and cable), before long you’re bound to have a technical issue with at least one of them. Lord knows, FiOS has had numerous outages and glitches since I started using them around 2 ½ years ago. Working in the high-tech/internet space, I understand complex systems sometimes fail and service upgrades often don’t go quite as planned. So, I’ve been patient with FiOS as they’ve gone through their growing pains.
But recently, when my credit card was triple charged almost $300 (i.e. $900 in total) due to a glitch on the FiOS website, I wanted answers, and I wanted them immediately. The fact that it happened in the first place is very disconcerting. That I still don’t have the issue resolved a couple of months later after speaking to over 10 Verizon reps (including a couple in the Collections Dept.), is inexcusable.
My initial experience with FiOS was great. The installation was fairly smooth, a local manager stopped by to inspect the work and ensure my satisfaction (he even gave me one of his cards), and they waived the installation fee of an extra phone jack for my fax machine. Judging on this one-time event alone, I would give FiOS a solid “A” for service. Therein lies the difference between simple customer service, and its far more powerful cousin CRM, which requires deep commitment to put systems, procedures and people in place to foster relationships with customers throughout the life cycle. It is here that FiOS has failed.
As one of the first subscribers in my town who’s still with FiOS, by definition, I am one of their longest standing (i.e. loyal) customers. My guess is I’m also in their upper tier of monthly spend at ~$160. And perhaps my best quality of all: I always pay my bill on time. Undoubtedly, these are 3 of the most important factors in assigning value to FiOS’ member segments. Not rocket science.
So CRM 101 should reveal to FiOS that if nothing else, I’m an above-average customer. Work even a little to keep me happy (e.g. a priority 800#) and show me you care (e.g. actually call me back when you say you will), and there’s a good chance I’ll stick with you. Take it to the next level and show you understand early adopter = influencer with potential for real evangelism, and watch how many people I bring to your service. And if segmentation is too much to ask, at the very least try following the no longer new Web 2.0 trends and establish a presence on social media channels, such as Twitter. Score one for Comcast, which is leaps and bounds ahead with its @ComcastCares initiative. Obviously Twitter alone is an insufficient strategy, but it symbolizes Comcast’s commitment to differentiate on service.