Why…Hello, Navel!

I love finding posts like this show up in my aggregator. Ten weeks into the year, and some folks are already out of original thoughts. (Names have been changed to protect the uninspired.)

The Best Posts of 2005 (so far… 10 weeks, 10 posts)

By (author’s name)

For the infrequent visitor, here’s a quick look at what’s been happening at (author’s name)’s blog since the beginning of the year. I picked them for variety, for the frequency of referrals and because they made me think.

Link: self-referential link #1
Link: self-referential link #2
Link: self-referential link #3
Link: self-referential link #4
Link: self-referential link #5
Link: self-referential link #6
Link: self-referential link #7
Link: self-referential link #8
Link: self-referential link #9
Link: self-referential link #10

And two bonuses for you!

My new blog: self-referential link to new new, self-referential blog
and last year’s list: self-referential link to last year’s list of self-references.”

The original post, by the numbers.

Number of times author used own name in post: 15
Number of links to own blog: 12
Number of connections outside own blog: 0
Ability to engage with readers (read “customers”): none…comments are disabled

Didn’t The Divinyls write a song about this?

(or, put another way, how can one learn if one doesn’t listen?)

This Is Kind Of Like Customer Service Reality Television

John Winsor’s blog, Beyond the Brand, is becoming a hive of activity where customers and vendors are partying together. Three bits:

One: Your Approximte Wait In Customer Service Limbo Will Be 121 hours

John tracked his interactions with Audible.com regarding a support/billing issue, and challenged Audible to get their act together. How? By putting up the “Audible Response Time Counter.”

“To keep track of how long it takes for Audible to respond to my email and share that response time with you I’ve started the “Audible Response Time Counter” located in the upper right-hand corner of my blog.”

(n.b. the issue finally was resolved, but it took a while)

Two: Best Customer Response Contest

He’s now running a contest. Here’s how it works (n.b. this is taking place over at BtB, not here…if you’re interested check it out at the source)

1. You select the brand you think gives the best customer service. I will post your name and the brand you selected in the right column.

2. Send an honest and creative comment/complaint email to them. Send me the comment. The comments will be judged by other readers on a scale of one to ten.

3. Post the brand’s responses and the response times here. Other readers can then rank each response, including response time and creativity on a scale of one to ten.

4. The person and brand combination with the best overall score in both categories wins…

Three: Getting Social

Let’s see what happens. I have just jumped into the fray, with an open letter to JetBlue (check the comments).

I’m Not Dead Yet

Is it that “traditional” sales and marketing are dead, but haven’t fallen down yet? Shel Holtz covers the topic eloquently:

“If we’ve learned anything over the last several years, it’s that all new media and communication channels are additive. I would defy you to name one—ONE—new medium that has outright replaced an older one. These predictions have always accompanied the introduction of a new channel. Radio was supposed to replace print. Television was supposed to replace radio. Now blogs are supposed to replace Web sites.”

You’ll find no bigger advocate for the social customer (ed. — heh.), the business/audience conversation, and the value of new communication channels than me. To achieve genuine and meaningful business results, however, it’s important to temper enthusiasm with practicality. Blogs, RSS, podcasts, and wikis are exciting and important and transformational, but they are a part of a larger communication landscape. Communications that integrate them will be far more successful than those that rely solely on them.”

Net: Depending on the customer’s need, and mindset, and way of doing business, he or she may want to use any (or all) of those channels to connect. A customer who knows exactly what she wants (having done a ton or research, or perhaps being an industry expert already) will have very different needs then someone who is new to a topic area who requires and desires education and interaction.

As service providers, we need to be flexible, and leave the options open. There will be different customers with different needs at different stages of the uptake curve. The organizations that can put the right mechanisms in place to connect cost-effectively with the most constituencies over time, meet those constituencies’ expectations, and develop ongoing relationships with the individuals in them will be the ones who do very well indeed.

Communities, Customers, Relationships

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a fascinating amount of connection between a number of folks writing and thinking about communities and relationships, and their impact on how customers and companies interact. A few pointers:

Jake McKee, CommunityGuy

“A community is a group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons.”

Jennifer Rice, BrandShift

“I see community as a group of people who come together and interact based on a shared interest. But that community may not result in relationships, and it may dissolve in a day. Or an hour.” (I disagree with this.)

Jake, Followup #1

“I think you have to make a distinction between “community activities” and “community”. Community happens when all parts of the community definition are fulfilled. When only parts of the definition are fulfilled, community activities happen. Epinions, Amazon, and ThinkGeek all do these very well, but since they’re missing the “form relationships” piece of the community definition, I wouldn’t call them communities.”;

and a clear, wonderful distillation of the whole concept (emphasis added):

Too often these days, businesses are seen by their consumers as entities rather than the groups of people that they really are. Small companies are often the bastions of interesting, non-traditional business. Small business either doesn’t care or doesn’t know enough to be risk adverse. They also have more fun, and as such, come across as a group of humans, and not some big floating head in the sky out to steal your money.”

Lee LeFever, CommonCraft

“Community building is not about tools like message boards and blogs. Community building is about people- about developing trust, relationships and emotional connections. Community is more tool-agnostic than you might think- if the people want to create a community, it will happen.”

Jake, Followup #2 and Followup #3:

“At it’s core, asking the question “What is community?” is inherently flawed. What we’re really been talking about Social Connection – an umbrella that covers a range of activities and interactions…We can even think about this as a spectrum. On the left end of the spectrum, we have lightweight, short-term, or loose connections. On right end of the spectrum you have deep, long-term, relationships.”

Tomi T Ahonen and Alan Moore are coming out with a book that seems related, as well. (I love the concept, and therefore I hope that the content is able to overcome the buzzword generator. “Generation-C?” Puh-lease.)

Wonderful, heady stuff. Maybe this needs a fourth level:

Transactions => Conversations => Relationships => Community

Witless Protection Program

“…it is blanketed with anonymity and foul air. “Alistair Cooke

Although Cooke was referring to Los Angeles, the sentiment seems relevant in another context. Dennis Kennedy is one of a number of voices chiming in on the futile practice of trying to shield employees from public view by removing their professional, biographical, and contact information from websites. These are employees in firms that practice a relationship-based industry, mind you. Mushroom management, sheesh.

Why are firms doing this? They think it will make it harder for headhunters to poach people. Riiiiight. Now, let’s take this out of the recruiting dimension, and focus on the customer.

It’s almost as if these organizations feel that their employees, and therefore the connections they can make with customers, are completely interchangable. The implication is that the customer is interacting with the “brand,” and not a person. That’s simply not the case.

“After all, the customer can get to know a brand, but the brand can never get to know the customer, so it’s no surprise that customers are much more loyal to individual employees than to the logos on caps or business cards,” writes Frederick Reichheld.

Take away the person from either side, and what’s left is a synthetic relationship, a connection with a fabricated ideal.

Note: Thoughts on this are currently being colored by the first couple of chapters of The Loyalty Effect, which I finally got around to starting during this week’s adventure. The book makes the argument that companies that elicit above-average loyalty in:

  • customers,

  • employers, and
  • investors

end up being noticably more profitable than the average.

(hat tip: legal blog watch, carolyn elefant)

Liveblogging Logan: Boston March Blizzard

9:40pm Boston just got smacked with another blizzard. MassPort has closed the airport “indefinitely;” it may open sometime after 3:00am EST. Inbound international flights being diverted to Montreal and points beyond.

9:42pm Pleas coming over the intercom now: “Anybody in the boarding area speak Greek? Any Greek? A little Greek?” No takers.

10:32pm JetBlue has pulled the snack carts off the planes into the lounge area. They’ve been ravaged. Ditto the pillows and blankets. Does not bode well.

1:08am Weds In line at the ticket counter with several dozen new friends. Next flight out is Thursday, unless Our Lady of the Standby comes through. Commencing vigorous tithing.

*nods off. inexplicably, dreams of bacon. *

4:51am JetBlue ticket counter opens.

5:23am Put on standby for today’s flights. Tithing continues. I’m #5 on the standby list. There appears to be a couple of dozen other folks who are also trying to get on the list.

8:20am The flight boards. They only clear the first four standbys. Crap. Looks like another day here doing the Tom Hanks thing.

8:23am Sweeeeeet! They did a physical check of the flight, and there’s one seat open. Thanking graces, etc. Hopefully the other folks will get on the evening flight.

12:15pm PST IFR touchdown at Oakland.

Overall, have to give the JetBlue gate folks pretty solid marks for dealing with a great many number of rude, tired, short-tempered customers (demands to have JetBlue materialize a $50MM plane in the middle of a snowstorm, etc.). The place where they fell down a little was on the communications aspects of the evolving situation. At one point in the evening, we were assured that since the inbound plane had arrived, everyone waiting at the gate would be able to get out when the airport opened, since “the plane is here and ready.” However, when the flight was cancelled around midnight (how can it be cancelled…the plane is right there?), it was not communicated as clearly as possible that an entire new set of rules were in place,requiring a completely different set of actions other than “just wait” which was the M.O. of the first couple of hours of the saga. Suggestion for them would be to have in place a FAQ, or decision tree, or the like clearly stating the different things that need to be done in each situation.

Glad to be home. Feeling for the folks who are still stuck, some apparently until Friday.

Timeshifting, Placeshifting Everything

Speed: 533mph
Altitude: 34313ft
Out the window: Valentine, South Dakota

You can take it with you.

Sounds: Brian Ibbott’s Coverville is on the headphones. (I had no idea that R.E.M.’s “Superman” was a cover tune…this version, the original, is much trippier than R.E.M.’s version. I like it.)

Reading: A couple of weeks ago, I moved all my subscriptions to Bloglines, and I love the access to everything regardless of what machine I’m using. Last week I installed Feeddemon on my laptop, and the automatic offline synching with Bloglines seems to work like a charm. Had the laptop synch feeds before running out the door. Perfect.

Related: A plea for full RSS feeds. Jay, yours is one of the blogs that requires undivided time to digest. Any chance of seeing the full feeds up via RSS, not just an excerpt? When do I have undivided time? On the airplane! When am I not connected to the network and unable to click through to read the full post? You guessed it…

Email on the fly: (Elisa, I got your note, by the way…a considered response is under construction.) About the same time I moved all my feeds over the Bloglines, I started routing email through Gmail (thanks again, Neville). It’s a great service, and I just figured out a way to make it one better.

Having just picked up an email-enabled phone (one of the Sprint PCS ones), I tried to get POP working with Gmail from the phone. No dice. However, the native Sprint email works great on the phone. Easy fix…when heading out for a couple of days, have Gmail forward copies of the email to the phone. Again, piece of cake. Since the phone is using Sprint’s tuned / designed email app, everything looks great on the device, easy to read, etc. (This is definitely not the device of choice for replying to emails, obviously, but having a quick way to know what’s going on, regardless of location, is outstanding.) When I get back home, two more clicks within Gmail turns off the forwarding.

The unifying meme: The “systems of record” are somewhere in the cloud. That’s where “everything” lives, be it a podcast, or a feed, or an email message. A killer app for mobility, and more importantly, for focus, is being able to chisel off just the parts you need and take them with you.

More Customer Remixes

Jeff Jarvis with another great example of a customer remix:

“The ultimate consumers are the ones who design your products for you — so you know they will like it and buy it. In this new world, consumers will also market for you and handle customer service for you but the ultimate is when they go to the effort to tell you exactly what they want in the hopes you will give it to them, if you’re listening.”

Yes.

De rigeur, Doc jumps into the fray in the comments with his thoughts on the “c-word” (that’d be “consumers”):

“Why not ‘customer’ instead of ‘consumer?’

The problem for most manufacturers is that they still think of their customers as consumers, which Jerry Michalski defines as ‘gullets who live only to gulp products and crap cash.’

When customers had no choice but to behave as consumers, the difference between the two was academic. Now that customers can contribute real ideas to manufacturers, and not just cash for sales, the difference is much larger, and more important.”

Again, yes.