The Mercury News Gets Interactive

Kudos to the San Jose Mercury News for their new online section called Interactive. Currently focused on the arts/entertainment beat, the Merc has set up nearly 20 weblogs for reader feedback…comments, critiques, reviews, etc. In addition to the central location for pulling everything together, they’ve wisely set up “channels” (i.e. dedicated blogs) for:

  • Concerts

  • Fashion & Style
  • Gaming
  • Hot Lists
  • Movies & DVDs
  • Music
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Teen Views
  • Your Reviews

Similarly, a half-dozen or so of the Merc’s reporters in the section have been given blogs of their own from which to build a following, such as Marian Liu.

Even just limiting this experiment to the typically “softer” arts/entertainment section of the paper, there are some interesting implications. The Merc gets the opportunity to act as host for a number of very active and passionate customer communities. And, if they’re smart, the various providers of music, movies, gaming, and other areas have another venue in which to get unfiltered feedback from their customers. Nice.

Blood and Turnips

Chuck Salter has decided to end his relationship with Ameritrade. He informs them of this decision. What do they do? Do they try to make things right? Do they try to learn from the experience? Negative.

Instead, they decide to levy a “termination fee,” against him, virtually ensuring that he’ll never want to do business with them again.

When a customer finally makes up his or her mind to leave, especially from a situation where there is some degree of history between the parties, is it ever a snap decision? Possibly, but more likely there’s been a series of incremental dissatisfactions that have lead up to the final decsion. Ameritrade should using this opportunity to examine the failure in the relationship, and learn from it, and try to keep the line of communication open. But no, instead they’re trying to extract that final transaction in a desperate attempt to maximize short-term profit.

(hat tip: businesspundit)

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 29JUN2005

click here to subscribe

Welcome iTunes subscribers! Today’s conversation topics include thoughts on the new iTunes v. 4.9 release, thoughts on a few business books that are on the radar, and some practical tech about the Mirra internet appliance.

Podcasting:

  • iTunes 4.9 adds podcast support

  • Impact on iPodder, other podcatchers


On the side table:

Just finished The Loyalty Effect, Frederick Reichheld
(again, thanks to Jerry for the rec)

Books in the queue:
All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin
(and, as the kids these days say, mad props to Ethan Johnson for sending me a copy for review)
A followup to the boxing match of a couple of weeks back

It’s Not What You Say…It’s What You Do, Laurence Haughton
(thanks, Laurence!)

Internet Marketing e-Book, David Waring
(thanks, David!)


Tech stuff:

Backups, etc…experiences with Mirra

Pros:
Easy to setup
Easy to get multiple machines backed up

Neutrals:
Secure Internet-based access to backups

Cons:
Can’t seem to do remote backups (all machines to back up need to be on same network)

Errata: The sizes of available Mirra boxes are 160, 256, and 400GB, not MB, as mistakenly stated in the podcast. D’oh.

Discussing Haystack

Chris Selland takes a look at Haystack, and has an initial reaction:

“For some, clearly this is an idea that makes sense. The type of engaged customer…and forward-thinking executive…should find the idea hugely appealing.”

He also asks a couple of great questions about Haystack, regarding “who’s going to pay?” and “what if the customer doesn’t want to be engaged in this process?”

Valid points, all, which we’ve tried to address. The conversation is happening here. C’mon over…

Mmmm…Dogfood. Introducing “Haystack.”

(Please note: Haystack links in this post have been updated since the original posting, in order to point to currently correct sites.)

If you look over to the right, you see the Social Customer Manifesto. It’s all about putting the customer in charge. REALLY putting the customer in charge. So, we’ve built something that lets customers take a significant step, and allows them to explicitly define and state the types of relationships they want with their service providers. Most significantly, this gives a customer the power to navigate profiles of individuals in an organization and choose with whom they want to work, as well the ability to be matched with individuals within the selling organization based on similarity of their backgrounds and interests.

We’re calling it “Haystack.”

What’s been broken with so-called “Customer Relationship Management” systems so far is that, well, they don’t really focus that much on the customer, do they? Under the rubric of “CRM,” there have been three primary classes of systems: sales force automation, customer service and call center automation, and marketing automation. All of these look at the world from the seller’s point of view. And all of them focus on how the vendor can crank more customers through a particular process in a given unit of time. They don’t necessarily help to truly build relationships between individuals. In fact, they are more likely to commodify it.

There has been a considerable amount of research done in this area, and there in an increasing body of data that suggests that building this kind of “enterprise social network” has measurable benefit for both customers and vendors alike. Perhaps the cornerstone of recent work in this area was done by Lichtenthal and Tellefsen, and is called “Toward a Theory of Buyer-Seller Similarity.”

“These findings suggest that internal similarity [perceptions, attitudes, and values] can increase a business buyer’s willingness to trust a salesperson and follow the salesperson’s guidance, and therefore, increase the industrial salesperson’s effectiveness. In contrast, the literature also indicates that, under most circumstances, observable similarity [physical attributes and behavior] will exert a negligible influence on a business buyer’s perceptions or a salesperson’s effectiveness. Thus, the key finding is that it is more important for buyers and sellers to ‘think alike’ than ‘look alike’.”

(n.b. The Lichtenthal and Tellefsen paper has an outstanding reference list that significantly confirms their findings.)

In a nutshell, here’s how Haystack works:


Howitworks_1
(click to enlarge)


In addition to trying this out ourselves, we’re starting to have some great conversations with folks like Collective Intelligence and Seedwiki about how this idea can grow.

Similarly to how Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are developing their book, Naked Conversations, out in the open, we are following a similar path with Haystack. We want customer feedback. We NEED customer feedback. (And we don’t want people to think we suck.)

Why we’re doing this? I think Peppers said it best here:

“Companies are faced with commoditized products. They’re faced with well-informed consumers who are bidding them against the competitors and are less loyal. The only real defense is creating a relationship with customers.”

To date, there just haven’t been tools like this aimed at the enterprise, that take this idea of creating real relationships between individuals and providing a means for customers to explicitly state their case, and determine with whom they want to do business at a real, interpersonal, non-synthetic level. So, we built one.

Naturally, a blog just for feedback about Haystack has been set up, and it is located here: Haystack Feedback Loop

[update] The Cerado Haystack Forum can be found here.

In particular, we’d love thoughts on:

  • Business Feedback

  • Technical Feedback
  • And, of course, (eeek!) bugs

This is going to be fun. Acorns. Oaks.

Stubborn

Interesting post over at Chuck McKay’s blog, featuring his click-by-click frustrations in trying to purchase and download live recordings from Gov’t Mule. (Serendipity side note: I happen to have had The Deepest End playing in the car for the last couple of days…thanks again to Shel for the excellent rec!)

In trying to recreate the challenges that McKay had, it seems that this is a case where trying to provide too much information got in the way of the customer experience. If one charges through the site, and drills down to the “purchase” areas, and tunes out the extraneous information, it’s fairly easy to purchase the MP3 files from the site. On the other hand, if one dives into the FAQ, it’s easy to get distracted from the main objective. (“What the heck is FLAC?” I don’t care! Just gimme the music!”)

The key takeaway? Don’t make it hard for the customer to do business with you.

Thinking About The Customer

Two great posts from Paul Greenberg at the PGreenblog, relating events during and after last week’s CustomerThink conference in Santa Cruz.

Paul writes, eloquently, about “the need to create the collaborative environment and tools to give the customer control over his own experience with the company.” (He also uses the word “betwixt” in the same post, which is reason enough to read it.) This really is the core, isn’t it? The core of relationships, of blogging, of podcasting, of all the different changes that are afoot with respect to social media, all relate to the fact that “control” by a company over a customer’s experience is an illusion. Ultimately, it’s the customer who is going to make the decisions…and the company that gives that flexibility in control to the customer will have an advantage over the one that doesn’t.

He also writes:

“Each person I meet has a story, a dream, an aspiration or twenty, a life, and just a complex sort of goodness and I don’t know, something very attractive about them as human beings. Sometimes I as well as I’m sure every single person reading this and those not reading it, tend to box them in to whatever they ‘do.’ ‘Paul is a CRM expert with a book,’ for example. That’s fine, but don’t you actually want to know more about many of those people?”

So well put. The “positioning,” the “brand,” the “story,” may pique initial interest. But it’s the messy, complex depth and reality of the individuals involved that builds the relationship.

Lie La Lie

Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Lie la lie
Lie la lie lie lie la lie, lie la lie
- Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer

Indulge me in this hypothetical situation. Someone you’ve never met before, with whom you have no prior relationship, comes up to you and says “Hi, I’m going to lie to you, and you should pay me for the privilege.” What would you do? What would you say?

I’m betting you’d put your hand on your wallet (in order to make sure it’s still there), and you’d tell them to take a hike.

That’s the same kind of squicky feeling I get the more I hear about the new Seth Godin book, All Marketers Are Liars. The most troubling quote I’ve seen so far from the book:

“Tell a story that is memorable and remarkable and worth listening to. Seduce your customers, because that’s exactly what they want you to do. That requires ruthless selectivity and creative storytelling—in other words, lying.”

I am continually stunned by this unbelievable disrespect for customers (who, by the way, Godin continues to refer to as consumers). Mindless automatons we must all be, interested only in entertainment, yearning for fanciful yarns that induce us to shell out cash. This assumes all customers are homogeneous with respect to a need and that a great “story” will be the trigger that induces them to buy. I just don’t think this is the situation.

Although Godin seems to find “case studies” (term used loosely) and has retrofit them to fit his needs, the trend is going the other way. Away from homogeneity. Out into the long tail. The trend is toward uniqueness and connections and relationships. It’s not about finding the best common self-deception that consumers (errg, I get the willies just typing that word) have, and trying to mimic it.

Good customers, thinking customers, create their own connections, and their own histories. Customers engaged in a community create their own stories, based on shared experiences.

Say you do follow the “liars” advice, and create a great story to catch a market. When that “story” changes to catch the next fad (as it must), what happens to the customer who bought into the original façade? What is your response? “Screw ‘em, time to ship more product, time to come up with a new story and catch the next big thing.” How will that customer feel when the façade is pulled back, when he or she gets to roll around to the back of the lot, and sees that the town was two-dimensional? How long will that relationship last?

I guess I’m not the only one who has a dissenting opinion on this, um, story. Publisher’s Weekly had this to say:

“Readers will likely find the book’s practical advice as rudderless as its ethical principles.”

In the “liars” world, how do you measure success? The “liars” approach forces one to measure success from the seller’s point of view. For focusing on the customer’s actual results immediately breaks the illusion.

Others talking:

Tom Guarriello: “But, am I the only one who thinks that this “lying” business muddies more than it clarifies?”

Johnnie Moore: “An awful lot of storytelling is done after the event. Stories rationalise action.”

Peter Caputa: “…the Marketing Messiah for scribbling oft-borrowed common sense marketing lessons down in story form.”

Ed Brenegar: “So, what then is at the crux of this interaction? It is the relationship between two people. Or one person and a lot of individuals collectively. We are not telling stories in the aether. We are telling them in a specific social, physical, relational, personal context.”