Why Is This OK?

Is it surprising that customers have a hard time trusting companies, when executives pull crap like this? Here’s how one exec defines the word “hype”:

“It is how you develop an image for companies. So in other words, you give out false statements to mislead the public so they will then increase in their mind the value of your company” – Russell Simmons

Unbelievable.

The continued focus on the short-term, “transactional” view of the customer still boggles the mind.

Finding The Conversations

Johnnie Moore’s blog rocks, and it’s one of 100+ that I have read through my aggregator in the past. But I rarely read it anymore. Why? Because there’s something better.

What’s better than his blog? Finding the conversations that he’s hosting.

This is because, although his blog is here, he publishes the feed for just his comments. This is where the good stuff is happening. This is where the conversations are happening. (n.b. have shamelessley stolen this idea, and if’n you’re interested the comments feed for The Social Customer Manifesto is here).

Subscribing to just the comments is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there may be insights that are missed in the “regular” blog posts. But as long as there are a good number of readers/lurkers to a regular blog, and some small number of those folks choose to start a conversation in the comments, there is an almost built-in filtering mechanism that is put in place…the posts that generate the most comments are the “high value” ones that pop up, and are the ones that get read. (By the way, Wilco is amazing. Buy all their records. Now. And Lane‘s too, while you’re at it.)

Here’s a link to how to do this yourself in Moveable Type or Typepad (thanks, Johnnie for pointing this out). It’s pretty straightforward, but you need to be comfortable mucking with the templates. Drop me a note…or a comment…if you’re not able to get it to work.

Two Fascinating Collaborative Environments

Mind…spinning…with…possibilities.

Just tripped across two flash-based sites that have sent the idea of “collaboration” off into a new direction. The first is a collaborative scratchpad where multiple people can all interact with a drawing that is being created:

Sketch1
As they say, what you see above is a “simulated image” (in this case, what might have been on the napkin before this was created, with kudos to Lee).

My actual experience on the scratchpad site was less-than stellar due to the combination of a troll who chose to scribble out the drawings of others, and the manic sketchings of a wanna-be Larry Flynt. The current scratchpad area appears to be a completely unmoderated, anonymous area. Not suitable for those with an aversion to profanity, etc. You’ve been warned; here’s the link. But, despite the presence of the troglodytes on the site, the possibilities are impressive.

To interact with the scratchpad, there was no loading of anything needed. No installations. No registration. No training. No nothing…just show up, and start collaborating.

The second site, also by the same author, was a collaborative site where one can move the virtual equivalent of alphabetic refrigerator magnets around. Again, no setup was needed; by simply showing up at the site, you are immediately immersed in the environment and collaborating with the others who are there. The same caveats apply as above, here’s the refrigerator magnet link.

The thing that makes these sites revolutionary in my opinion is their ease of use and light-weight nature. The scratchpad site appears to be a 29K shockwave file, and allows up to fifty concurrent participants. Similar specs on the letter game.

What if an organization could point a website visitor at a private site like this and work with that customer or prospect on architecting a solution to their problems, collaboratively and in real time? Or what if you could integrate these capabilities into, say, a wiki-based environment, and document and take snapshots of a solution as it evolves?

There’s something significant here.

Dear SBC: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Random geek stuff…just found a sweet little device. It sits between the phone (regular or even cordless) and the computer. It hooks up to your regular phone via the normal phone jack (RJ-11), and hooks up to the computer with a USB port.

So what?

So now I can use the same cordless phone I’ve been using for 3 years to make and recieve Skype calls. Free to other Skype folks, and a couple of pennies a minute to call out to landlines and mobiles.

Just trying it out, but it seems to work great, at least on the outbound side. Sweet.

(click on pic to enlarge)
57599754_orig_1

Breakeven period on the cost? About a week.

Ow, That’s My Foot I Just Shot

Another great nugget from Fastlane from the post referenced here:

“My wife and I have had our share of issues with different dealerships. During our last purchase, in 2001, we were ready to close the deal on a Trailblazer. The salesman was great. However, before we could close we had to talk to the warranty salesperson. She would not take no for an answer. Good thing too. She convinced us that the vehicle was of such poor quality that it would require a $1000+ extended warranty. In fact, she was so convincing that we decided against the purchase and walked out of the dealership.” (emphasis added)

Heh. Oops.

Hierarchy, Subverted

Was reading the recent post by Cynthia Price on the GM Fastlane blog. (hat tip: nevon)

Down in the comments were two items that stood out:

Mary Freund: “Dear Mr.Lutz: I am a G.M. employee. I work in Doraville , GA. Please put a hybrid engine in our product!!!”

Clarence Erickson: “As a GM employee I have noticed that sometimes the dealers don’t treat even me right. My wife also had a few rough visits where I had to intervene…Perhaps we should work on this a little more. They do tend to treat people like sheep at times and there is the leftover perception from the bygone days that the dealer service department will work you over every time.”

Things I’d love to know the answer to:

1) How many (5? 15?) organizational levels exist within GM between the execs doing the blogging (Cynthia Price and Bob Lutz) and the internal GM folks (Mary and Clarence) who are using this public forum to give the execs direct feedback?

2) How long would it take for that feedback to be shared upward using pre-existing internal communications mechanisms?

3) What would be the likelyhood of a response using the internal mechanisms in the pre-blog days? And if there was a response, how long would it take to get to get back to Mary and Clarence?

Hell Hath No Fury: Irate Customers Begin Laying Googletraps

An interesting trend that seems to be perking up…after exhausting other options, it appears an increasing number of customers are not simply stopping at taking their business elsewhere after being wronged by a vendor. Those wronged customers appear to be increasingly likely to put their stories up on the web, with the express intent of having their misfortunes act as a warning to others who might stumble by their site while searching for information about said vendor. Two I’ve tripped across in the past day or so:

Alan Meckler: FTD.Com For Flowers Ruined My Weekend

“Perhaps I will order flowers online in the future, but I would never use FTD.com…In the meantime I hope Google and other search engines pick up this post so that searchers can be warned about FTD.com.”

Seth Godin: Public Service Announcement

“One day, you might be considering installing Skycasters satellite internet access. It’s possible that a google search as part of your due diligence would bring you to this posting. If so, then it’s worth the space it is taking up. Don’t.”

Cool.

And, I suppose, googletrapping would be the act of placing a googletrap. Heh.

Internal, External Business Conversations

Hugh writes a great post about why business blogs can help organizations improve customer connections. (Updated to later illustrate that the concept is relevant in intra-organizational discussions as well.) The metaphor is that there is a membrane that surrounds every organization, and that membrane impedes real information flow and, with it, learning. The nugget:

Hugh: “The more porous your membrane (“x”), the easier it is for the internal conversation to inform the external conversation, and vice versa.”

In other words, if there is alignment, or “equilibrium,” between what’s happening inside the organization and what’s happening in the customer base, both sets of stakeholders will be better off. Customers will be getting what they want, and organizations will have happy customers. And, presumably, reasonable profits.

This triggered four thoughts:

  • The theory above sounds a lot like this.

  • For this to work, it can’t just be “conversation,” it has be the RIGHT conversation.
  • There is a flow to this. Flow 1 is “out to in.”
  • There is a second flow to this. Flow 2 is “in to out.”

So, first off, this sounds a lot like thermodynamics. I had to go look up the thermo stuff to put this post together, and then it made my head hurt (again, like it did mumblysomethingsomething years ago, the first time I saw it in school), so I closed that page quickly. But, I think a way to characterize this model is through paraphrasing that law into something like this:

“Insight spontaneously disperses from being localized to becoming spread out if it is not hindered.”

Insight is good. Knowledge is good. Knowledge of real customer needs can help an organization do the right thing for the market. Knowledge of what a supplier is doing can help a customer make better decisions.

Another way of putting this…communication in this way changes the game from being zero-sum to being collaborative. Things tend toward zero-sum when information is withheld, and power and manipulation come into play. This changes that.

Moving onto the second point above, the idea of “conversation” needs some clarity. We’ve come to use the word “conversation” as shorthand for “folks who ‘get it,’ and want to work collaboratively, and want to share information, etc.” However, all conversations are not the same. More importantly, all conversations are not equal.

For this model to work, some conversational structure may need to be in place. If customers are clamoring for something (let’s say, a fad-ish feature in a product that may have long-term detrimental effects), the company can react in two ways. In the first case, the company can listen to those customers blindly, and deliver exactly what they want. In the second case, the company could try to explain some of the shortcomings of following that approach, and try to reach a middle ground where both parties agree, that results in a longer-term positive outcome for both sides.

Both cases reach equilibrium, but they are certainly not equal conversations.

Which brings us to points three and four above, the flows. There will be an increasingly strong “out-to-in” flow if a company is not meeting the current needs of its customers. If there is a flood of feedback going across that membrane from out-to-in, and nothing is being done about it, there is a sure bet that at some point in the future that organization will be in trouble. However, if that out-to-in flow is moderate and steady and is responded to with an equal in-to-out flow of information about how the company is responding, you can bet the company is marching ahead in step with where its customers are going.

The “in-to-out” flow, on the other hand, is a quite interesting one. Assuming the in-to-out flow is information-rich (and not a flood of the same-ol’-B.S.), the company is providing some insight and novel ideas to the marketplace. This is good. However, similar to the example above, if this flow gets too strong, the company may be outrunning its customers, and providing products or services that require change the market can’t yet absorb or isn’t ready for yet (see the Apple Newton for an example). In this case, the company should take a step back and perhaps slow down a notch and listen to what’s coming back in from the outside.

Food for thought.

Others commenting on this:

Lee LeFever
BlogSpotting (Heather Green)
Fredrik Wackå
Scoble

Business Podcasting As A Competitive Intelligence Tool

The fine folks over at B2BMarketingTrends were kind enough to ask me to contribute to an article on the business uses of podcasting. In particular, they were interested in an answer to the question “How can podcasting be used to enable customer-facing personnel to stay abreast of what’s going on with competitors and to provide market intelligence?” The full article is here.

The four most salient points:

  • Podcasting delivers the information to users automatically, typically via a combination technology called RSS (for “Really Simple Syndication”). It is a simple program that regularly checks to see if any updated information is available. The user’s device automatically downloads this competitive information when it becomes available. This is in marked contrast to a “competitive intelligent intranet” that you must check regularly and navigate for updates, or a process that requires an individual to locate, print, and organize electronic or paper documents or e-mail messages.
  • The flip side of this is that individual users can choose to “subscribe” to only the particular podcasts within their organization that they deem relevant. So if an individual only wishes to receive information about a particular set of competitors, he/she can easily specify those preferences. With an individual’s attention already stretched thin as a result of e-mail overload (not to mention the problem of unsolicited messages, or spam, and a seemingly endless number of voicemail messages), the ability to receive only relevant, selected podcasts can aid not only in significantly improving productivity but also assist in reducing some of the challenges that information overload causes for sales team members.
  • Competitive intelligence information has an exceedingly short shelf life. Since podcasting ensures updates automatically, a sales team has the assurance of having the “latest and greatest” information that may be available.
  • Podcasts are, by their very definition, portable. But, more importantly, they allow people to “time-shift” to better fit their own schedules. Similar to audiobooks (which, according to National Public Radio, experienced double-digit growth in 2004), you can access competitive intelligence podcasts during a morning commute, on a subway, or while engaged in other activities such as jogging. So instead of needing to carve out time in an already hectic schedule to review and study the latest competitive information, this information can now be accessed whenever it is most appropriate for the individual (and it can be paused, rewound, and replayed as many times as desired).

Link: Listen To Information About Your Competitors…On Your iPod?

Intellisync Embraces Wikis For Collaboration

Wireless email and mobile software provider Intellisync is beginning to use wikis to enable collaboration between a number of their global PR agencies, according to Blogspotting.

Stephen Baker writes: “In the last two months, they’ve [Intellisync] linked up their four p.r. agencies that work for them around the world, and put them all on the same wiki. That means they post and respond to each other’s ideas. They put up documents on the wiki that they never shared before. Rip Gerber, Intellisync’s chief marketing officer, says that once Intellisync gets used to using wikis internally, it will extend them to customers and business partners.”

Digging a little deeper, it appears that Intellisync is working with the folks over at Eastwick Communications and their emerging Eastwikkers practice in this effort. Eastwikkers is providing “an agency branded collaborative workspace powered by software vendor Socialtext.”

In all, a great step, and, as noted in the article, the key question will be: “can a sense of trust be fostered between the different participants in the effort?” If all goes well, the collaboration and synchronization of the various agencies has the potential to be a great boon for Intellisync in their battle against companies like Good and RIM. On the other hand, if a breakdown occurs in the collaboration, the finger-pointing between the various agencies could be fast and furious.