July 19, 2007
When large companies buy innovative startups - a case study: HP buying LogoWorks
[warning: rant coming] I have used LogoWorks for 4 projects now. The first two experiences were so delightful that I could not stop talking about them - resulting in more than one referral customer. The third experience had a little problem, but they addressed it by giving me a change, which I would have had to pay for, for free - so I was still a champion.
Then came my last experience. I ordered a logo last Wednesday, which was supposed to be ready this past Monday at 4:37pm Mountain time. When that time came and went and nothing happened I emailed support - getting a machine generated response. The next day came and went and nothing happened again, so I emailed support and got that same machine generated response. On Wednesday I took a closer look at that email only to find out that it listed the email for my project manager and that I should contact that person (for some obscure reason the system could not do that I guess...). So I did - sent an irate email to my project manager.
She simply responded: "Sir, you must complete your billing informatin for us to continue." After a quick check, I found that not only had I received a receipt, my credit card had been charged. So I sent back all the supporting information with a closing saying: "Now what? This is RIDICULOUS..."
Now at some point in time I did create another account by accident, but that one had no projects in it - all four of my projects were in the same account that kept showing me:
My project manager sent me another saying: "Ok Sir I am so sorry about this I was looking up your project under your gmail address...I can see that the problem with your logo is that we do not have enough information about the company to get started." Now, just like any other time I created a project with them, I followed the instructions and filled out the whole creative brief. But I never received an email asking me for more info...not at my main account nor at the other account, which had an email that I also use. In addition, I could not even access the brief to add more info...it was closed and telling me that designers were working on my project. I complained to my project manager about the fact that no one ever contacted me and that there was no way for me to add info to the profile.
My project manager responded by explaining that they never contacted me because they were looking at the other account - the one that has no active projects in it! And that I could email her the additional information about my company.
What are they thinking? That their customers are stupid or something?
So I responded: "That makes no sense (and note that in my experience as a marketer it is never a good idea to BS a customer – especially not an irate one)...But even if your system would have gotten confused, as you are, then I should have received a email there and that did not happen either...I am still not sure what info you require to continue….when you say you can email, what do you need? Address, telephone number, number of employees, color of my eyes? I am pretty sure that I said that this was a marketing services company – providing marketing consulting services. What else do you need???? When you are the one that is screwing up and aggravating the customer beyond belief, don’t you think you should be a little more helpful in trying to get the customer somewhat satisfied again?"
That was yesterday afternoon....I have not heard from them since - and my dashboard still says "Designers are working on design concepts....Check back Jul 16, 2007 4:37 PM Mountain Standard Time to view design concepts."
Is this a case of a large company screwing up a gem by integrating it with their customer prevention processes? Or is this just a case of a team that made money on the acquisition and lost their passion around the business? Obviously I cannot tell, but having done 4 projects now, I could clearly see the downhill trend in this case.
May 14, 2007
Being in "HP Hell" - the PC Manufacturer's Hell Sequel!
[UPDATE 05/16/07] After spending between 15-20 hours on the new computer in the last week, HP fixed their telephone lines and I got in touch with my case manager - who was very efficient. They are going to replace the whole computer. Fedex is picking up the old one today and I should have the new one next week.
[UPDATE 05/17/07] Someone from the small & medium business division emailed me to apologize for sending me two monitors - apparently this error occurred due to a system issue. She wanted to know if I "would like to keep the monitor or return it; this would be at no charge of course." I assume the return would be at no charge and not the "keep" option...sigh
Depending on how you look at it, this could be the funniest or saddest buying experience - I will let you be the judge of that. This is my story of trying to buy an HP media center PC - a fairly high end machine by desktop standards. Unfortunately there are so many "Colbert-esque" twists and turns to this story that it became really long - so I apologize for the length of this marketing horror story...but I am sure you will relate to some parts of it.
First was the actual buying experience - I decided to buy an HP Media Center from the Home Office division but did not like the monitor choices from that online store. In looking around I found what I wanted in their small and medium business division's store. Trying to buy that monitor did not exactly go as smooth as expected. Not only did I need a different account with different rules to be able to buy this product, which all by itself caused some problems as I described last week, but they shipped me two monitors - even though all my records and confirmations show that I only purchased one. You might think that was a good thing - getting a spare monitor for free. Not so, they also charged me twice (not right away, mind you, but a few days after I received the order)!
Hmmm...come to think of it, I may have stumbled across the secret HP formula for success...just send duplicate orders to your customers, charge them for it only a few days after someone accepted the order, and hope that nobody will notice :)
The real story started when I got my brand new machine on Tuesday of last week. Somehow I could not get the sound to work. I tinkered with it for a few nights thinking that it must be a classic case of "stupid user errors," but no, I could not get it to work. On Friday I finally got in touch with their support department and spend a long time online with the first technician, who took me through all her possible help screens to debug my problem. She finally told me that the system was somehow not recognizing the Soundblaster card, which her system showed as having shipped with my new computer, and that I should shut off the computer, open up the tower and re-seat the Soundblaster card. And if that did not work I should reload the drivers. ..easy, that should solve my problem.
So I did that, but never found the Soundblaster card. Thinking that perhaps Soundblaster had stopped branding their product, I decided to re-seat all the boards I could find. When that did not work I reloaded some audio drivers but not the Soundblaster drivers, as I could not find them. So I got back in touch with the award winning HP support department.
The second tech took me through many of the same steps and also some new ones. After what seemed like an eternity she finally gave up, sending me a link to all the help screens she was going through to troubleshoot my system and saying: "Francois, Please try the steps from the article if that does not resolve the issue we will take the PC for physical evaluation. This will get your issue resolved" (in quotes taken from the actual chat transcript) I thought she had not noticed that besides buying a PC with all the bells and whistles, I had also bought an in-house support plan - the type that promises to send a technician to your house or office if something does not work. So I mentioned that to her and also said that her proposed resolution was unacceptable. I also asked her how I could return the PC and inquired about further escalation possibilities. By now, the only thing she was concerned about was: "Are you ready to send the PC to our factory, so that we would physically evaluate the PC and get the issue resolved." When I asked what was included as part of the in-house service plan she answered "The in-home service would cover replacement of hardware component if any.." How she decided that this was not a hardware issue is a mystery to me - after all the first tech rep told me that it sounded like the system was not recognizing a piece of hardware....was it even there? When I asked for a manager she told me that a "quality manager" would call me back within 48 hours - which BTW still has not happened.
I can assure you that it was a lovely way to spend 3 hours on a Friday night - thank you HP!
On Saturday I took a closer look at the in-house plan that I bought, only to realize that you have to register that thing within 10 days or else it becomes null and void. I opted for the online registration. The system prompted me for some personal information and then for my products' serial numbers and product numbers. At first it would not accept the product numbers which were listed on both the computer itself and on the invoice. It presented me instead with a series of numbers that did not resemble anything that I had received from HP. I picked one anyway but then the system told me that it could not register my computer's serial number as it did not exist. Thankfully there was a human-based backup system reachable by fax which figured it out based on the numbers that the online process had rejected.
...another hour well spent on a beautiful Saturday - thank you again HP.
As you can imagine, by now I was livid...
I got a sliver of hope when I discovered the HP Marketing Excellence Blog authored by an HP VP of Marketing Strategy & Excellence who had just received some award by Brandweek for being a marketing exec who "gets it." Hooray, someone at HP was engaging in the market conversation. I left a comment on his blog saying that I wished I could congratulate him for his new award, but that while he might "get it," he had obviously not been able to instill that "getting it" into his company's culture. Since marketing is all about making sure that all the customer touch points reinforce the same marketing promise you make at the point of sale, I told him that I could not consider HP's marketing successful and worthy of an award. He approved the comment really fast and sent me an email explaining that he would see what he could do to help me. I thanked him with some additional details of my ordeal so he would have all the ammunition to get this resolved. I also lefr a message on their customer experience blog - pointing out some the problems with site incompatibilities which I had encountered and the form that did not work, but that comment has yet to be approved.
Unfortunately things did not improve after that...
When by 3pm yesterday I did not get a call from anyone, I sent the VP a quick note letting him know that I had not heard from anyone. Shortly afterwards I got a call from a senior case manager who introduced herself and gave me a phone number with two extensions, one for my case and one her personal extension - unfortunately I was on the phone when she called and so that information came to me via my voice mail box. When I called back and dialed her extension, I got a message that this extension was an invalid extension. When I dialed the extension for my case the system would hang up on me. Thinking that perhaps it had to do with my VoIP service I tried repeatedly from my cell (T-Mobile) as well as from my home phone (Verizon) - but in each case the system would keep hanging up on me. I recorded this experience, so you can listen to what it sounds like to call HP support if interested.
Not believing that this award-winning support department would do this sort of thing I kept trying, finally entering a random set of numbers which got me to by-pass the IVR and put me into the general queue for their case management service. When I finally got a live person I asked to be connected with the extension of my case manager - only to be told that he could not connect me to that extension. He asked me for all sorts of information to identify myself and subsequently transferred me to someone else who asked me for all the same information - and also unwilling to connect me to my case manager. 45 minutes later I got transferred to a third person who first asked me "how" he could help me, but then quickly sensed the mood and tried to connect me with my case manager. When that failed he asked for my number and proceeded to give me the "right" number for me to call back - which was the same number I had tried all along. I asked him to use his cell phone or some other phone to call that number himself and verify that it kept hanging up on me. He said he would, put me on hold and NEVER came back. I did receive an email from my case manager saying that she was unsuccessful in reaching me via phone (1 try!), but that I could call her back at her personal extension - that same defunct number. I tried to reply to the message but it was one of the mailboxes you cannot reply to...
...another 2 hours well spent - thank you HP!
If anyone at HP is listening, here are a couple of recommendations:
- Stop your marketing - if your post-sale processes are set up to destroy your brand promise as it did for me, then all your marketing dollars are wasted resources. They will not buy customer loyalty, which is where your long term profitability will come from
- Stop focusing on optimizing mind-less processes. Empower some humans to by-pass the processes and get the customer the help they deserve. Build escalation steps within your support infrastructure that includes real techies - not telephone operators who are following a set of screenshots to debug a system
- Fix my problem or send someone to pack up and pick up this machine - as a small business owner I cannot afford to spend any more time on your problems, and I certainly do not want to inherit them
Buying and supporting PCs is getting worse than dealing with airlines. Even my $4-7 (for full fault tolerance) a month ISP is offering me better service.
Hopefully someone at Lenovo is paying attention - if this is how their competition deals with customers it cannot be that hard to capture all those lost souls and turn them into life-long loyal customers.
Click to hear the sound of HP support hanging up on you...
May 11, 2007
Sony delivers the worst ROI yet!
[rant coming] OK, so I am in a complaining mood this week, but as a passionate marketing person it is so depressing to see how large companies deal with their customers. My last mind-bending experience is with Sony.
I bought a Viao laptop from their online store last week and picked a model/color that was in stock and that was going to ship this past Tuesday - May 8th. I even paid for the 2 day shipping upgrade as I wanted it for the weekend. On May 8 I went online to check on my order and their system now showed that my order was now not scheduled to ship until May 9th. So on May 9th I went and checked and the system showed that my brand new toy would ship that day. When I checked on May 10th I was shocked to find the system now yelling at me: "CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK, ship date unknown". Never did I receive a notice from Sony explaining what was happening. The only thing I got from them was a useless dock that I had ordered with the PC. So I emailed them to complain about my 2 day shipping surcharge which was now meaningless and also to ask them for clarification on what was going to happen and how I could potentially cancel my order and return the dock.
36 hours later, the system is still yelling: "CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK, Ship date unknown" and I still have to receive my first email or phone call from Sony. What did I do wrong?
Companies operating in the consumer electronics space have to know that as long as they do not screw up, people will continue to buy their brands when it's time for an upgrade. That is true for PC's, printers, cameras, you name it - heck - I bought 7 Dells before they screwed up. So how can a company, who is currently not doing that well to begin with, first screw up on their supply chain management so than a product that showed in stock suddenly goes out of stock with an unknown ship date, and secondly screw up even more by not communicating with a customer who not only paid extra for expedited shipping, but who also took the time to alert them about the fact that he was becoming irate? And did I mention that I usually buy top of the line, or should I say with tons of options that you don't really need - so over a lifetime this could mean tens of thousands of dollars to Sony just from this one customer - me.
These are the basics...this is not sophisticated management theory:
a) make sure you have a reliable supply chain
b) have an impeccable customer service process - especially when a) fails
My Return on Information with Sony is close to zero...
[end of rant]
February 12, 2007
Alaska Airlines Sucks! (WARNING: DO NOT FLY!)
Last Friday afternoon I was supposed to fly from San Diego to San Francisco on Alaska Airlines. We all know that the airline industry as a whole has gone down the tubes lately, but the 7 hour ordeal I went through was just a little over the top - talk about a business that could not care less about their customers.
It first started with weather and air traffic control delays - a problem which seemed unique to them as 3 United Airlines flights for San Francisco left with no problems. They then boarded us and announced that we had one additional delay. When our time to leave came up they told us that one of the air-conditioning packs was on the fritz - even though I could swear that we were still getting fresh air through the vents. When that was fixed, a circuit breaker tripped, and we all had to deplane. We each got a $6 meal voucher which got you a small pizza with no toppings and no drink - pepperoni or anything else had to be paid for by the customer.
We were then told/lied to that we would leave on an airplane that was parked at the gate next door with the same crew except for a new pilot. In the meantime I noticed that they had changed the flight number at the gate with the supposedly broken plane to a later San Fran flight.
When we finally boarded our flight one guy from the later flight tried to get on ours and was told that his flight would board momentarily at the gate next door. Knowing that the plane was broken, and having been lied to all night, I felt bad for him - thinking he would not see San Fran that night.
Our new plane had no power, since power could only be turned on by the pilot who had not yet arrived - a new twist in the story as I was led to believe that we had a new pilot who was already in the San Diego airport. No power means that it really gets hot, and it also means that the toilets do not flush, so it really gets stinky too. After being in there for awhile we saw the other airplane - the one we were on originally - take off for San Francisco! Once that flight was gone we were told that our pilot had arrived but that he was so ill that he had to be taken away by paramedics...so they cancelled the flight.
Couldn't they come up with a better story?
Obviously they decided that since we were so delayed already they were better off canceling our flight and having the next flight be an on-time departure. Instead of telling us that, they kept us at the airport for another few unnecessary hours and then made us board an empty plane so that we would not rebel when the later flight took off...
...of course, there was no budget for overnight accommodations...you were on your own - they would not even make suggestions on where to stay. There was an Alaska Airlines manager at the airport but he was not available to speak with customers - I bet he was fearing for his safety at that point.
When I tried to leave for San Francisco the next day, the only thing they could do for me was to get me there by 10:30pm through Portland. When I asked if they could put me on another airline they rudely told me that they could not do that and that I had to buy another ticket from another airline directly if I wanted to see San Francisco before 10:30 that night...
Note to self - never even think of flying Alaska Air again. They are rude and they don't even try to pretend that they are not lying to their customers.
October 12, 2006
[rant] Why are companies thinking that it's OK to trick their customers?
My PC has been sluggish lately. Since I do not have an IT department I looked for some online solutions to help me figure out what might be wrong with my system (I know that it is partly my fault as I keep downloading beta software that is really pre-alpha software)...
After (very little) research I decided to download the Uniblue Wintask Pro - which seemed to have received good reviews from sites that I trust (i.e., CNET). On top of that it came with free software that promised to speed up my PC - exactly what I was looking for. When I tried the Wintask Pro it did not seem to offer me much more than the Windows Task Manager - so I went for the free software that promised to solve my problem. The minute I launched the application it told me that there was an upgrade available, which I eagerly downloaded (yeah, yeah, in my multitasking way of doing things I am sure I missed some legal "fine print" in the process somewhere). After running the application's diagnostic it came back with a whole bunch of issues related to my computer that needed to be "optimized" - which of course resulted in much optimism on my part that I would finally be able to solve my problem...
...except...the new version can only do diagnostics. If I want a version that actually fixes the problem I need to buy that one too...
How is that for misleading a newly minted customer who just dropped $50 on your solution?
I may spend another nanosecond or so to see how I can get my money back - since they have a big sign on their site claiming a money back guarantee - but do you think that I would ever recommend this company or buy from them again?
Marketing and customer service is not so complicated - it starts with common sense!
- Do not trick your customers
- Do not lie to you customers
- Do not mislead your customers
- Do not blame your customers - even if it is their fault
- Do not treat your customers as if they were stupid - even if they are
- Don't assume that customers do not talk about their experiences with others
- And please, do not assume that customers have no memory
October 7, 2006
Bruegger's Wins Award for Worst Customer Service
[update 11/28/06] See also related article on how Bruegger's gets it and fixed the problem.
For awhile I was refraining myself from writing negative things about Bruegger's as my previous rants (here is one) got a pretty high ranking on Google. But the absurdness of their practices is so flagrant that is has become too hard not to write about it.
A few weeks back I went to Bruegger's only to find out that they had no bagels - you heard that right - on a Sunday at 8:30 am they had NO bagels. Apparently the baker had overslept. If you are a bagel shop and for some reason you have no bagels, why even bother to open up shop???
Then a week later I got a bagel with hair in it. We tried to convince ourselves that it was hair from a cleaning brush so that we could at least continue eating the others - but even that is unacceptable!
When I walked into the store last week, there was a huge line...and one very sloooow server. When a guy ordered 36 assorted bagels I thought I was going to die - the misunderstandings and the recounts that took place as part of that transaction were like a caricature on how to really piss off your customers. The thing is, even that server probably should not have been there. She most likely missed the memo that said that there was a team meeting on the back porch of the store. Indeed, after waiting in line for 15 minutes, a team of 4 Bruegger employees - including the top store manager (a very grumpy man), and the assistant manager (who clearly lacks respect for the top dog) - all came in chatting from the back porch - oblivious to the collective negative energy that was about to turn violent in their store.
And then there was this morning. I was early and there was only one server again, who evidently had forgotten (or never was given) the log-ins for the cash registers. She was using a little hand calculator to figure out how much customers should pay. I had three bagels and even though there is a special price for a three-pack, that little calculator did not have an option to enter a three-pack - the only option on that calculator was 3X the price of a single bagel. For awhile it thought it might be an operator error, but after a few minutes of arguments I realized that it must have been a calculator limitation (arrggghhhh!).
If you are in management at Bruegger's and happen to read this post (although I bet you nobody is listening) - the next time you are in my town, go take a look across the hall to Starbucks. The place is humming, employees add to the vibrancy of the atmosphere, I have never seen them run out of coffee, and I have never had hair in my coffee or in their pastries!
And if you are wondering why I continue to put up with this nonsense - you have just encountered a case where the buyer and the actual customer/consumer are two different people. I don't usually eat bagels - my son does. And yes, I have thought about taking him with me a few times so that he would get fed up with this whole thing and allow me to buy bagels elsewhere...
August 23, 2006
T-Mobile is the next worst practice
When I saw the efforts of this T-Mobile user on the Church of the Customer blog I could so relate to it... I am a big T-Mobile user and when I thought about upgrading my BlackBerry the last time around they told me that it came with a $150 mail-in rebate - which swayed me into signing up with them again for a year and get the latest gadget.
Well months later (I still cannot figure out why they cannot speed up the rebate process) I get a notice saying that my phone did not qualify for that rebate...and that I am welcome to call them to discuss that issue.
Seriously now, who has the time to do this...and while spending $175/mo with them for a few years, wouldn't you think that they should call me to discuss this miss-understanding?
Oh well, only a few months left and then....goodbye T-Mobile!
July 18, 2006
Successful formulas do not always work for others - especially when you miss the key ingredients
Whenever a company finds a new and successful way to reach a goal, or to reach a hard-to-get-to audience - many others follow quickly - copycatting the original company, often times with dismal results. In some cases, as is the case with word-of-mouth marketing, new entrants screw up the whole playing field for everyone.
There are three main reasons why copycatting does not always work. First off, many companies who copy others do so without really understanding what the real ingredients for success are. The second reason, which took down email marketing and potentially could take down word of mouth marketing for all of us is related to ethics and industry self-regulation in the absence of government guidelines. And the third one is that best practices are not always portable from one company to another.
The entry of Wal-Mart with a Myspace-like offering clearly falls into the first category (via adage - may require subscription). In an attempt to appeal to teens with something else than pencils and backpacks, Wal-Mart launched a social networking site called The Hub. The site is designed to allow teens (hubsters) to "express their individuality." They can create their own page to show it to the world, and they can post hot-lists of songs and movies. They can even shoot and submit Wal-Mart related video clips and have a chance that it will be picked up as part of their TV advertising.
So far so good.
Except that they screen all content, email all parents requiring their consent for teens to put up a page, and forbid users to email with one another. Oh, and they reserve the right to modify the commercial created with the winning video...
And they call that a "GENIUS WEB DESTINATION?"
It is web alright, but where are the genius and the destination parts? If all goes well, they may win the top price for the "most uncool" social networking site!
July 12, 2006
Comcast - a tale of poor customer service and screwed up management decisions
So a guy has problems with his cable modem and spends time in Comcast's online customer service hell (he also happens to be the biggest champion for the movie snakes on a plane, even though the movie makers newer acknowledged that). Then Comcasts decides to send a technician out to have the modem swapped out. When the technician calls Comcast to activate the modem, he ends up in the same customer service hell hole as most customers end up in and spends an hour on hold - and falls asleep on the customer's couch. The customer videotapes the incident and puts it on YouTube. Next thing you know it gets picked up by mainstream media outfits like the NYT, Forbes, and even airs on MSNBC's "Countdown" program, just to name a few. More than 300,000 people view the video on YouTube.
Another good customer service story - right? This must have been a great wake-up call for Comcast management to start fixing their problems...
What do you think happened next?
Comcast FIRED the technician!
...now talk about a wrong-headed management decision.
What do you think?
(For more info - check out Mary Schmidt's blog)
June 16, 2006
Best practices are meaningless - but worst practices are to be avoided
Bryan Eisenberg said that best practices are often times achieved under very specific conditions and can therefore not always be generalized. Len Ellis said, give me emerging practices, best practices are so yesterday!
All this rings so true. If a practice becomes a best practice that is replicable across other companies or industries, you have to assume that most of your competitors will have adopted that practice - thus giving your company no competitive advantage from embracing it.
What companies really should do is to avoid replicating "worst practices" - a practice which if you were from another planet observing what earth companies do you might conclude they do on purpose:
- Screw customers after they purchase products by treating call centers as a cost centers instead of customer relationship based economical centers
- Continuously interrupt prospects with rude and mostly out-of-context messages
- Treat employees as disposable cost centers instead of valuable customer interfaces
- Insult customers' intelligence with stupid messaging or by blaming them for product failures.
- Grab a ton of information about prospects and customers and give them nothing in return - or worse - asking them for the same info over and over again
- ...and so much more
Let's ban the worst practices first, then let's worry about best and emerging practices!
June 12, 2006
Why is customer service at Starbucks consistently great - while the service at most other take-out joints sucks?
You go to Starbucks and the energy is positive, the service friendly, and experience somewhat consistent from store to store. You go to Bruegger's and there is no energy to speak of, the service is chaotic at best, and the consistency - let's say non-existent.
Now if you think that that is bad, and happen to live in a town like mine - try placing an order with Papa Gino's or Domino's - it will not only be the chaotic service and low energy or the "I don't care" attitude you will have to deal with - it's pure stupidity! Never do I know whether I will fall within their delivery zone or whether some new driver will decide that I am just outside of it, and usually I do not find out until well after I placed my order and have a house full of hungry/angry kids.
So what do you think makes up the difference between those outfits?
One theory, put forth by management consulting guru John Hagel says that too many companies focus on the transactional view of economics instead of the relationship view of economics. Makes sense! The fact that Starbucks employees get more benefits, stock options, and promotional opportunities not only makes them happier employees - it results in an energy that can be "experienced" by most customers who visit their stores.
Another reason is that the marketing execs at those companies who cut corners in customer service are probably not grokking marketing the way Burger King's CMO Russ Klein does - where every "out of home food dollar" is considered to have a "social component" to it!
April 9, 2006
Mercedes Benz - poor customer service ROI
Mary Schmidt makes a great point in the comments of a previous post where I outline Mercedes' mangled response to a catastrophic engine failure that happened with our E320 while my wife was driving my son to his birthday party.
In it she asks the basic question that any marketer should ask themselves when faced with irate customers who warn their friends about the bad customer experience they had with a company: "Hmmm. Would be interesting to tally up: 1. How many people read your blog; 2. How many comment here; 3. How many link to this post (and then comment). And so on. Seems to me Mercedes is losing some business out of this, ya think? Perhaps you should do a conservative example cost benefit analysis and send it along to the CEO. Say, "Lost 5 customer at $60K each" versus repair of existing customers' engine, and so on....You can count me among the "lost" I'll certainly never think of buying a Mercedes (new, used or classic) after reading this horror story."
This is so true. Close to 4,000 people read the story so far - and that is just on my site, it does not include all the readers of stories that were picked up by many other sites (one of which made it into Yahoo news for over a day). Everyday multiple people find my stories from googling some Mercedes related search terms. And it even came with some unintended consequences, like having some people who are mentioned in the stories (and who never had the courtesy to get back to me) have my story show up first when you Google them.
For a blogger it is an ethical dilemma as to whether or not to write up a bad experiences like this. For this story I gave Mercedes ample time to respond to me first, and whenever I had a new rant or gripe, I sent it to them first. But the whole situation was ludicrous enough to justify my going public with the story. A 5 year old $60K products that fails after 100K of mostly highway miles should result in an answer that is different than "it's your fault and we can give you $6,000 for the car in a trade-in."
For a company which started losing money hand over fist, and which tumbled to 21st place in customer satisfaction, and which lost its title of world's best selling premium brand to BMW for the first time in since 1993, you would expect a different response. It would have been easy, and relativelly low cost, for them to continue to keep me as a believer in their brand promise. And at my age, I might have bought 2 or 3 more of their cars in my lifetime. That will clearly not happen now, and there is at least one other confirmed person who will never buy their products again because of this story. The ROI on their way of handling the situation is clearly not in their favor when you look at it this way.
April 5, 2006
Mercedes says that cars fail in the first 50K miles - after that it's the fault of the driver
In the continuing saga of dealing with Mercedes Benz and their dealers following the recent incident where a loose engine part blew a quarter-sized hole in the engine block of our Mercedes E320 while my wife was driving my son to his birthday party, Mercedes finally got back to us (story described here, and follow up here) .
Someone in their customer service department cleared up all possible confusion by telling us in an email that "It is our experience that manufacturing defects occur early in the life of a vehicle (typically during the warranty of 4 years/50,000 miles, whichever occurs first) and not 50,000 miles after it's expiration. After reviewing the matter, Mercedes-Benz USA continues to stand behind this decision."
But wait...what are they really saying???? Oh now I get it - it's the stupid customer's fault! That's it!
...while maintaining the car flawlessly according to the E 320 manual, and always with Mercedes dealerships, and with all the receipts to prove it, I must have still done something wrong to cause that. It cannot possibly be the product's fault, or an error on the part of the dealer who serviced the car 2 1/2 weeks prior to this catastrophic failure. It must have been a dumb user error! That's what they are telling me...
I guess it's time to move on, get rid of this piece of junk called Mercedes "Bang," and look back East to some good quality Asian cars. Thankfully, citizen marketers around the world are not letting this story die. Hopefully we will save a few souls from wasting their money on buying this german junk.
April 3, 2006
Mercedes Benz does not care about its customers
Adding insult to injury following the recent incident where a loose engine part blew a quarter-sized hole in the engine block of our Mercedes E320 while my wife was driving my son to his birthday party, the Mercedes dealership launched into a "blame the customer" and "insult their intelligence" routine.
During the conversation where he relayed the news that neither Mercedes nor his dealership would help us the dealer service rep started off by “blaming” us – saying “we (meaning him and the Mercedes factory rep) think it could have been caused by two things. The car overheated because it had no cooling or perhaps “you” did not put oil in it. We can also find no record of changing the oil in the last 20K miles.” As it turns out, we have religiously serviced the car according to the E 320 manual, and always did it with Mercedes dealers. We have the receipts to prove that. But more importantly, we have a receipt dated Feb 28th, 2006, 2 ½ weeks before the car blew up, that specifically states that his dealership did change the oil and the oil filter on that day. So not only did he do the “blame the customer” routine, he actually launched into false accusations!
When my wife rebutted, saying that the reason there was neither oil nor cooling fluid in the engine was because there was a quarter-sized hole in the engine block, he said that he would have to check on that. Check on that?! The other dealer, where we originally had the car towed told us that this is what happened. Would you call this Mercedes-like behavior? Coming out and accusing someone and then “having to check” when asked a pertinent question?
He then told her that this was all just bad luck – and neither the fault of the dealership nor the product. “Everything “looked” good when we serviced the car”, he said. He then proceeded to further insult her intelligence by saying that cars are like people – “some people are healthy and live a long time and some people get sick a lot and die young. You never know!” What is this supposed to mean?
Being flabbergasted at this (hopefully) un-Mercedes-like behavior, I decided to send one more email to register my outrage with their VP of Marketing, their GM for the customer assistance center and a few other folks in their marketing and customer service department. I also decided to copy someone who labels herself as "I am responsible for generating positive press and mitigating negative press on Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the USA" on LinkedIn.
Do you think I got a response? Nope...not a peep from Mercedes land!
For those of you who know me, I am a consummate marketer, and I do know something about marketing, product quality and customer service. I also realize that sometimes things break down, and I was not expecting a call from the CEO or a free upgrade. But this being a $60K consumer product from a company with a reputable brand, and with a proven track-record that we maintained the product according to their specifications, I was also not expecting them to “blame” the customer or to insult the customer's intelligence in the face a of a premature and catastrophic failure of their product.
That is just unacceptable!
For a follow up - click here
March 30, 2006
Mercedes - a case study on how to squander a great brand
- safety - important as she was driving around our 6 year old son in New England weather
- reliability - we trusted that the German engineering would not cost us a fortune in service charges
- a relationship - we were looking for a relationship with the car manufacturer instead of a dealership . We were told that we were buying a Mercedes, and that all promises would be honored by any dealer - no matter which one
- luxury - that is what the brand stands for after all
- status - in hindsight there was unfortunately some of that
It did not take long for us to realize that Mercedes was not delivering against most of its implied brand promises.
I bought the car from Herb Chambers' Flagship Motorcars, as they were the only one willing to provide me with a quote via the Internet at the time. Soon after we bought it, various parts of the car started to break down and the engine started to lose oil. And soon after that we found ourselves looking for an alternative dealership as we were very dissatisfied with this dealer's service level. One dealership, which was actually closer to us, did not have Saturday servicing. Nor were they willing to provide a loaner car during major services to customers who did not buy the car directly from them. So much for the promises across dealerships.
We ended up with Foreign Motor West, a 45 minute drive from our house, and over the years spent thousands of dollars with them on all kind of problems, which ranged from small things, like various indicators and buttons failing, to bigger issues such as a leak in the air conditioning system in year three which unfortunately could never be located and resulted in repeated air conditioning failures, to brake problems, to the ongoing oil loss problems and more expensive repairs for things I don't even understand - nor care to understand. What I do know - it is a long, too long list.
Less than a month ago we had the car serviced again - this time it needed a new air flow meter and a few other things - costing another $1,100. Three weeks later , while driving to our son's birthday party, my wife's car blew up on the highway less than 3 miles after leaving the house. To our surprise, Mercedes Roadside assistance did not cover the tow - which ended up costing $5/mile. We had it towed, at our expense, to the nearest dealership.
But the biggest surprise came a few days later when they called us from the dealership with the estimate for repairs. Turns out something had blown a hole the size of a quarter in the side of the engine. Which meant we needed a new engine. The cost: $14K!
I am not a car expert, but I feel confident saying that a 5 year old Mercedes with 100K miles (mostly highway miles), should not blow a hole in the engine. The dealership where we had the car towed to told us there was nothing they could do other than putting a new engine in. When we contacted our dealership they towed the car back to their garage for inspection, only to get back to us a week later and tell us that the engine had overheated because there was no antifreeze in the car. A rather important point here: the other dealer had told us that the reason there was neither antifreeze nor oil in the car was because of the aforementioned quarter-sized hole in the engine.
Now I really felt taken for a ride (and not the smooth, luxurious one Mercedes promised us)... Mercedes was turning what should have been their problem into a chicken or egg problem - did the hole come first or did the antifreeze disappear first? And they were blaming me for not having antifreeze! Where, oh where, did the antifreeze go in the three weeks since they ran all their sophisticated electronic equipment on the car? Maybe most Mercedes customers are stupid (including me for being motivated by emotions instead of economics), but to me (and the other dealer) it seems obvious that the antifreeze leaked out after something blew a hole in the engine!
Still believing that this was just a bad movie and that nobody at Mercedes corporate would want anybody to perceive their brand this way, I wrote to Mercedes customer service asking for their help and also emailed a few PR folks as well as their newly minted VP of Marketing - Mark McNabb - asking for help. I never heard back from the office of the Vice President, but someone from their PR got back to me and introduced me to Paul Juron, the GM for the Customer Assistance Center. I pinged him twice but never got any response. Finally I did get a response from someone in his department - simply stating "Thank you for your recent e-mails to Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. After review, I have been asked to respond on our organizations behalf. Arrangements have been made for your concerns to be reviewed on a local level; you may expect further contact shortly, if not already." Well, as it turns out, the local decision stayed the same...it was deemed to be our fault/problem that something got loose in the engine and blew that hole in the engine block.
My final analysis? No wonder Mercedes has tumbled to 21st in the most recent JD Power Satisfaction Survey. It is mind boggling (instructive too) to witness and experience how such a prestigious brand has fallen so far so fast. And while I've learned something, believe me that it's been no fun being on the receiving end of this knowledge.
Oh one more thing: Mr McNabb, if you happen to stumble upon this post, I would like to extend you a complimentary invitation to our upcoming Innovative Marketing Conference's CMO Summit - a $1,500 value. Not only would it be fun to have you there to discuss Mercedes as a case study, but you might actually walk away from the event with some valuable lessons on how to do the right thing for your customers.
PS - if you like this story - please digg it!
December 8, 2005
[rant] Ford caves in to religious right - and I thought marketing boycotts did not work!
I just heard this on NPR, and now read it on CMO Magazine's blog:
"Ford has announced that its Jaguar and Land Rover brands will no longer advertise in gay publications, by which they meant The Advocate and Out and Curve but which I always think means GQ or Men’s Health. This announcement came not long after the company had a sit down with members of the American Family Association (Motto: “America’s Foremost Right Wing Busybodies) which had called and then suspended a boycott of the car maker because of such ads and charitable works that it deemed a threat to heterosexuality."
(also here in Washington Post)
Well - I sure hope for Ford that all those religious nuts will be buying Fords, because with two of them in my driveway, I will never buy one again!
Isn't there enough evidence that boycotts rarely have a real economic impact?
Update - 12/08 [newrant] I will be doing a lot of my Christmas shopping at Target this year. Not because I am a regular customer - in fact I rarely set foot in the store - but because they are one of the only chains that did not cave in to another boycott to restore Christmas by those same religious extremists that pushed Ford to stop advertising in Gay mags - they actually want stores to use "merry christmas" in their advertising - ironic, if you ask me! (here for business week article, here, and here for int'l perspective) [/newrant]
October 24, 2005
Unbelievable customer service
In trying to help the family of my friend, who passed away this weekend, I offered to arrange for the ticket of her brother for him to attend the funeral later this week. What followed is pretty astonishing.
First I checked fares online and settled on a Delta flight. I went through the complete registration only to find out at the end that the passenger must present the credit card with which the ticket was purchased. Figuring this was just a glitch and that I could get around that I called Delta and explained the situation. Not only did the agent not acknowledge the situation, she said that this problem could be solved by paying an extra $100. I said, "you must be kidding me - how can $100 fix this situation and how can it not be fixed with $0?" Upset, I added "this is theft." She proceeded to repeat the exact same sentence as if I was some kind of moron who did not understand English. I hung up...
Then I called American. Not only did the attendant acknowledge the situation, she offered me an emergency fare that was $100 cheaper than what they had on their web site, and she was also very patient while I was placing other calls to get the funeral home information. Go figure...
October 14, 2005
When systems stand in the way of good customer service...
I have always been a big champion of Vistaprint. using them for business cards, over-sized postcards and datasheets. I tell all my friends about it and I know for a fact that many others have used their service because of my recommendations. But then came my latest order...
It started out fine, with me ordering 500 copies of a 2 page datasheet to distribute at an upcoming conference. The person I dealt with was pleasant and helpful and even did a reorder last Friday after I had discovered a minor error. I paid to have my package delivered on Wednesday - but it did not arrive on Wednesday. On Thursday I emailed, and they confirmed that while it should have been here on Wednesday it would get delivered on Thursday. That still gave me enough time as I had to have it in the conference organizer's hands by Friday or Saturday at the latest.
When I received the box however, I noticed a major color problem on the front page - some color was either missing or had been tuned the wrong way - resulting in everything looking deep purplish. I emailed and was told that they could not ship any faster than within 3 business days. I begged and pleaded asking them to reprint overnight and then ship overnight for Saturday delivery - but no go! While I got the standard apologies, I was really upset - as this will not only reflect bad on us, but I have now been wasting all kinds of money and opportunities as well (I did get a refund - but that still results in me wasting money and opportunities).
The bottom line is this - I am convinced that the reason they could not help me is because their stupid order entry system does not allow for deviations from the normal ordering procedures. While physically it would have been possible for them to help me, their IT infrastructure stood in the way of delivering awesome customer service.
And in a world where the product is a commodity, and the service/price ratio is the differentiator - they not only lost a customer, they also lost a real champion. All because of poor IT planning...
September 16, 2005
Why monopolies are bad for customers
I lost Internet access at my place up in Vermont. I called Adelphia and in a relatively painless fashion they dispatched a technician out today.
He was a nice enough guy, knowledgeable too, and clearly going the extra mile to help me out – except that his company had decided that Internet access technicians do not need laptops. So in order for him to diagnose the problem correctly, I had to loan him my brand new laptop for two hours. He took the thing outside, schlepped it up and down the stairs – you get the picture. Plus it made me nervous as I have sensitive information on there.
Of course, and in this country, cable companies are holding somewhat of a monopoly – so in a way that could explain why they make such customer-unfriendly decisions.
But is nobody thinking about the future?
As they are starting to roll out VoIP and other services, they will start running into competition. And then of course, even in their core offerings – cable and high speed Internet access – they will increasingly have competition.
But wait – the competition is coming from large telephone companies!
…never mind – they’ve got us cornered…
August 22, 2005
When your customers stay with you until you screw up
I have been reading a few stories of disgruntled long time phone customers who are switching companies because of one screw-up (here for a Verizon story, here for an Orange story). I can absolutely relate with that as I have done it twice in the last 10 years or so.
It is also in-line with what happened to me this morning. I have been a loyal service customer of a local Ford dealership for years. Actually I bought my last car there as well. Yesterday, on my way back from our weekend trip, I noticed a high pitch noise coming from my engine when I was driving fast. So this morning I call my garage. The (obnoxious) scheduler told me that they have nothing available until next week. The problem is that I am going on vacation next week and that I do not want my car to break down when away and relaxing. I begged the woman to check for a spot for me, reminding her how much money I had spent on them over the years, but to no avail. In the past I would have tried to escalate the discussion and talk to a manager - but I didn't. I called another Ford dealer - got into a phone answering machine hell and hung up. Then I called another one and got connected to a very friendly man who said that he would be able to squeeze me in on Wednesday.
Guess what? If those guys are any good, I will continue to go to them until they screw up.
I suspect that this is true for many customer relationships - and not just in the phone service or car service industries. If you don't screw up, they will stay with you. Printers, computers, and cameras all fall into that category to a certain extend. People will research their first buy, but after that, a majority of them will keep buying from the same company until that company screws up. Dell, HP, Canon...all have a significant portion of their customer base that are loyal because it's easy to buy from the same company over and over again.
If this is true, and I am convinced that it is, then why do companies spend so little attention to the quality of their service department? And why does marketing not step in and demand control over the quality of that post sale relationship?
This sounds like easy money to me...
August 19, 2005
Comcast screwing up
An irate Comcast customer service rep changes the name of a problem customer to "bitch dog". The next month, that shows up in the mail on the customer's statement. I don't think you need much more detail to imagine what happens next (here - from Church of the customer).
August 14, 2005
Incompetence must be a job requirement at Bruegger's
I already wrote about how impressed I am with the Starbucks service. Well now I am increasingly convinced that the Starbucks in my town has found a way to have Bruegger's hire every single person that fails the Starbucks interview...
Today, just like yesterday, and like about one in three or four times I go there, they ran out of plain bagels. It's the same people managing the place for years - so it's not like they are missing some history to develop a semi-predictable supply and demand process. Yesterday it also took me 10 minutes to pay - with only two people in front of me. All because they decided to argue with a little old lady that she could only use one coupon at a time. She wasn't even trying to use two coupons on one item - she had two items and wanted to use a coupon for each item. And then there is the constant slowness in everything they do...I have waited 5 minutes to get served with 4 of them in the store and only one of me. They just happened to have been "assigned" to other tasks while the manager was out back.
It blows my mind that chains like that do not realize that their employees are the company/brand to me. If it weren't for my son liking their bagels (plain), I would never go back to any of their stores...
Hire well - and train your people to use some common sense - it's well worth it! In the retail business you cannot build a brand based on good quality products only. The product that I am buying is the whole buying experience.
Thankfully, after this frustrating buying experience, I crossed the hall to go buy my Starbucks coffee, and those guys instantaneously put a smile on my face.
August 6, 2005
Some people just don't get it!
Yesterday someone commented on post I wrote awhile back on some new and exciting LinkedIn features. I closed my posts wondering how much those new features would cost...
So in his comment this guy starts out by giving me prices and then suggests that I switch to Openbc or soflow - and signs the post with a link to his profile on soflow - where you need to be a member to view it (duh...I must be missing something in this scheme). It peaked my interest enough to check him on LinkedIn and there I find out that he is the country manager for openbc in France...
I guess this guy forgot blogging rule #1 - be transparent!
And I think he is also missing a whole bunch of marketing rules - does openbc really think that they will increase membership by having their country manager spam blogs? Did I say country manager?
Oh well...enough calories wasted on this one...
August 3, 2005
This is what I meant - Dell did not get it!
Shel over at Naked conversations writes about how he's been happy with his Dell and never had any problem with it - but will nevertheless never buy one again.
That is exactly how I felt when I saw all the fallout.
July 16, 2005
Another worst practice is brewing over at Land Rover
Nevon has been chronicling the story of a dissatisfied Land Rover Buyer who started blogging about it. It is fascinating to watch how all those stories follow pretty much the same scenario. And it is even more fascinating how most companies and PR agencies are asleep at the wheel.
July 9, 2005
Is Dell following the path of Kryptonite?
I have always had good experiences with my Dells, but recently Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine bought what seemed like a Dell-lemon and blogged about it (here). It quickly spread across the blogosphere (boy, do I hate that word) and a ton of other unhappy customers started to chime in as well. Then yesterday Dwight Silverman from the Houston Chronicle wrote about his interview with some Dell PR person who basically said - we do not respond to online comments and do not need a corporate blog! (here - via Micropersuasion).
Even though I have personally been happy with them over the years, I am sure that I would not have recommended a Dell to a friend - which I did just a month or so ago. And I am sure that I would have done a lot more due diligence into alternative brands when I bought my new top of the line machine 1 1/2 month ago. Don't marketing people at Dell get this???
And if they let this go a little longer, Google searches for Dell will turn up all kinds of negative stuff...
Dell - wake up! The rules have changed!
July 8, 2005
Still no word from my bank...
It has been 48 hours since my bank wrongfully gave me full online access to someone else's account...and still no word on what they will be doing about it (see original story here).
July 7, 2005
Still no call from my messed up bank...
24 hours after wrongfully giving me online access to some other person's bank account (whole story here) TD Banknorth still has not returned my call. I think I am going to call the main media soon...
What else would you do?
July 6, 2005
My bank is screwed up - mixing up online accounts!
I have a business account with TD Banknorth. When I logged in this morning I almost had a heart attack - my account was $30K below what it should have been. After checking for past transactions, I found that someone had retrieved $20K from the account recently. You can imagine what direction my blood pressure was going at that point. Then I realized that most transactions looked unfamiliar. After nosing around a little more, I found out that I was in some other person's account. Yes, you heard me right - I had full access to some other person's account!
I immediately called the phishing and identity theft hotline and spoke with two different people. They reset my password and told me that the wrong customer number had been assigned to my account - which is why I got into some other person's account. After resetting my password and attaching the "right" customer number to my account, I could no longer get in at all. Since I had requested to speak with a supervisor about this severe security breach, they told me that a supervisor would get back to me and help me with all my problems - within the hour.
Four hours later, and after receiving no return call, I called again, only to find out that there was no history of my call in their system and that my account was again attached to a wrong customer number. By now I was starting to seriously lose my cool. The only good news was that after this guy fixed my problem I could get in the account and confirm that everything was the way it was supposed to be. When I asked him how this could happen, he told me that the account was probably set the wrong way at the very beginning when I set up online banking with them. And when I told him that I had accessed my account online before, he brushed it off saying that the system sometimes reassigns customer numbers...WHAT??? You mean this could happen randomly?
I demanded to speak to a supervisor about what I consider a serious security breach - specifically I wanted to know whether the other person would get notified of the breach in his account and how they could guarantee that this would not happen again. The rep told me that he would have a supervisor call me - "hopefully" today (can you believe the arrogance?) - but that there was no way that they would contact the other person since they did not know whose account I had been in. As it turns out, the minute I realized I was in the wrong account this morning I printed copies of all the pages I had visited that were still in my cache. So I had that person's account number! He took it but did not give me any indication of what he was going to do with it.
It's now another hour and a half later and guess what - still no return call.
June 11, 2005
I got some SPAM on my WIKI (here)...wonder if that is done by some person or some automated system?
June 6, 2005
Best Buy?...maybe not in the store!
It will be fun to watch how Best Buy handles this pr hot potato...
June 2, 2005
Is somebody stealing my content?
As I was looking though my log I found a referring link (creative-mobs.com) from a site I was not familiar with. When I checked it out it turns out that this guy is just copying other peoples' posts on tagging and running them on a site with some Google ads. Now I have not bothered with putting a Creative Commons license on my site, but I know that Micropersuasion has it and this article was one of many of his posts on that same portal, so was this one from Media Guerrilla, and I can go on and on.
I don't see the benefit of creating a site that aggregates the posts belonging to a particular tag in the first place, but even if that person saw a benefit in doing that shouldn't he a) not run ads on other people's content and b) give proper credit?
May 24, 2005
[rant] Why is it so damn hard to buy stuff online in Belgium?
Being from Belgium and having family over there I tried buying a digital camera and a mic online for my brother. I could not use Amazon.fr or amazon.uk since they would not allow me to ship to a Belgian address (actually they did, but at the very end of the ordering procedure I got an error saying they could not do that).
So I figured I would try a few local shops with self-proclaimed online commerce presence (ColliShop, Photo Hall, Colruyt, Super Company, Intellihome, and Krefel) - only to find out that none of them could take my order. Some had forms that would not allow the buyer to be from another country, one tried to send me to paypal for payment but misdirected me, one required me to chose a local shop to buy from, and one said they were going to call me for payment (which of course never happened - and when I replied to their email to cancel my order, my email came back undeliverable 5 days later). I thought I was lucky when Krefel took my order, only to find out (3 days later) through an email that they want me to fax them copies of both sites of my credit card and a copy of my identity card (both sides as well). I have not had one of those is years!
What the heck is happening? Is online shopping in my native country really that backwards? Or did I just have dumb luck? I have bought online for family - wines, flowers, books, cd's - but now that I come to think of it, it was all through UK and French sites...
We're now six days later, and I will clearly miss my brother's birthday. If anyone has suggestions on how to buy this stuff, let me know...
May 19, 2005
Corporate employee surveillance...
The American Management Association yesterday released its "2005 ELECTRONIC MONITORING & SURVEILLANCE SURVEY"(here - requires registration, but free). The numbers are awful - "76% monitor web surfing, 36% of employers tracking content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard, and 55% retaining and reviewing email messages". At least "fully 80% inform workers that the company is monitoring content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard".
Ok, I guess that means no individual rights in the workplace.I also wonder what would happen if companies would spend as much time and energy on innovation in the workplace instead - what do you think would happen?
May 14, 2005
Ranting about (anti)privacy in the workplace
Shel Holtz is ranting about Spectorsoft and Websense on is blog (here) - rightfully so! If you do not know what they do, those companies make "big brother" type products that monitor employee emails, web surfing activities, as well as their chats/IM. Their products also capture every keystroke and programs launched. Yikes - I sure would never want to work in a company that deployed those apps! And I suspect that few people would.
Shel goes on - on the topic of whether those anti-privacy tool companies are evil he says:
"Well, yeah. They’re profiting by creating unfounded fear and introducing products into the workplace that will suck the company dry of employee commitment.."I could not agree more. I would go a step further and say that the companies that are deploying those tools are evil too...(ok maybe too harsh - definitely clueless). What kind of culture are you creating by deploying tools like that? I am sure there are abusers everywhere, but by and large, I would argue that letting people do personal stuff online while at work probably ends up having a positive impact on productivity. By letting people do some of their shopping or some of their banking at work, not only will you reduce their stress level about getting personal things done, you will also free up their time to think more about your company's problems. And if they surf seemingly random sites - guess what? You may actually increase the rate of innovation within your company. The web, just like conversations, is a great source of ideas. Monitoring employees with those software tools will clearly kill both their commitment to the company (as Shel argues) and the company's ability to innovate!
Shel concludes his rant with
:"The question is, how do we get this message into the heads of executives who are bombarded with the kind of pathetic, fear-mongering crap that companies like SpectorSoft and Websense shove down their throats? I certainly don’t have their advertising budgets. I’m open to ideas."
...maybe we can start a wiki listing the companies that deploy those solutions. This is one case where a reference list of customers can work against you rather than for you!
[Technorati Tags: privacy websense spectorsoft]
May 9, 2005
Yikes - now what do you do?
With customers now having blogs to voice their dissatisfaction and tagging services and other prospective search tools to discover those postings, bad news travels faster than ever. And if it is still true that dissatisfied customers are four times more likely to discuss their experiences online than satisfied customers (study here - free but requires registration) then companies have to be extra careful about debugging all their interfaces with the customers before launching new services.
It will be interesting to see how FTD handles the situation.
Am I missing something?
Awhile back I wrote a post about how idiotic I found Kodak’s move to rebrand Ofoto to Kodak Easy something something (sorry it’s a pretty long and hard name to remember).
Well, recently I got another chuckle from one of their funny behaviors. About three weeks ago I got an email from those guys telling me “The brand new catalog from the Gallery is in the mail! It's packed full of spectacular gift ideas for upcoming holidays like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Graduation, Fourth of July and more.” Not only did it not get here in time for Mother’s day; but why the heck waste money on a paper catalog with me?
They should know that I am a digital kind of guy. I take high resolution digital pictures, I upload them to their service, I share it electronically with friends and family. I have responded (as in bought) to electronic marketing messages in the past. What else do they need to know about me to ensure that they communicate with me through the most effective channel instead of wasting money on an expensive catalog?
...some people will never get it!
May 3, 2005
[Interesting] PR lessons we should all follow!
NevOn has a great entry on Jeremy Pepper's interview with Dan Gillmor along with a first hand account of what it's like to be on the receiving end of "blind" pitches from people you do not know (here).
Dan Gillmor - "If your mailing list is larger than 2 people, put it in an rss feed...email is broken..."
Neville - "DON'T send attachments...and please format for European paper..."
April 26, 2005
Bypass interactive voice response hell!
Have you ever been stuck in a company's interactive voice response (IVR) system? I have - and not too long ago (see here).
Help is actually here! Today a friend of mine, Paul English, pointed me to one of his personal web pages where he keeps track of the codes to bypass the most popular companies' IVR system and talk to a human quickly (here). If you know of a company's code, you can help update the directory by submitting the codes directly into his Quickbase (large companies only, please...let's not spam this great service)!
April 21, 2005
The Verizon saga continues
So I finally got through to a live person at Verizon on Wednesday night (see previous Verizon "horror story" posting). As you can imagine, I was pretty animated, but civilized.
I told the "repair representative" that I couldn't understand why they could not fix my "no dial tone" problem before Friday - after all, it is their problem and it originates somewhere outside my house. He assured me that I misunderstood the web site and that what they really meant was that the problem would be fixed by no later than Friday 6pm (note that their web site gave me options to schedule repair for this Friday or for any day next week). When I asked him why I had to stay home all day he told me I did not need to since I had run the "NID" diagnostic myself. And when I told him that their web site was not clear at all on that subject, he said that I shouldn't pay attention to the web site as it was inaccurate.
So tonight I get another call on my cell (I still have no dial tone on my main home line) from another Verizon machine - telling me that a technician will be here tomorrow between 8am and 6pm - and that they are expecting an adult 18 years or older at the house to ensure that the "repair" can happen.
...who the heck is telling the truth at this company? The live representative or the machine?
April 20, 2005
Another example of horrible customer service - Verizon
So I come home from a trip today and realize that I have no dial tone on my home phone. I go online, but of course, it's impossible to find a customer service number on the Verizon web site (somebody must have figured that it was too expensive in the last round of budget cuts). I finally do find a place to report the problem online...telling me that it only takes minutes to get someone on the case.
So I fill in all the information about the phone line that does not work, and just when I thought I was done with the trouble ticket the system asks me whether I checked the dial tone at the Network Interface Device (also known as NID). After clicking through a few help screens to help me understand what an NID is (and where to possibly find it), it tells me that I do not need to be a technician to figure this one out - I only need a screwdriver and an extra phone set to open that device up and test for an outside dial tone (this is called outsourcing customer service to the customer - aka let them do all the work! Might work for Amazon...but not Verizon.).
At any rate, after checking the NID and finding no outside dial tone, I conclude that the problem is not with my "inside wires" but with their outside line (remember... THEIR problem). As I finish the trouble ticket the system informs me that this will require the dispatch of a Verizon technician - and the earliest time that they can send someone out is this Friday anytime between 8am and 6pm. Wait a minute...I gotta stay home all day two days from now because their line into my house failed????
By now I am furious (and ready to chew up a live person), so I go back to looking for a number on their web site (its impossible that they don't have a number I thought...there must be a number there somewhere). While looking I get a call from a Verizon machine to tell me that my ticket was opened successfully. It also gives me a number to call should the line come back on by itself. unfortunately I did not have a pen to write it down, and there was no way to replay the message...goodbye. So I go back on the web and finally find a number. I call that number only to be struggling with another automated doodah that asks me for all the same info. I keep asking for a representative until the system finally tells me to hold for a repair representative. I hold...only to get a fast busy tone after about 30 seconds of waiting!!!! I guess the system discovered that I was calling from a non-Verizon phone (my cell) and therefore should not have access to their expensive in-person support staff.
Contrast that to my Vonage experience a few months back. I had a poor line with Belgium and reported it. The representative called the number herself, made the necessary adjustments to the network (don't ask me, that's what she told me)and called me back immediately to let me know that my problem was fixed.
Time to short Verizon and buy Vonage...or Skype!
Customer service going down the tube - where is marketing?
We went to a local restaurant here last night and had another one of those nightmarish dining experience caused by an abnoxious waitress. When I add this to the incompetence of the attwireless (I guess now Cingular) person I dealt with a few weeks ago and the absolute farce that I had to go through to get Adelphia's high speed internet access installed, I am seriously wondering about the state of customer service in this country.
I am saying this country because in a lot of other countries you kind of expect that. But in this country that was always one of the things that stood out for me - the high quality/friendly customer service.
Where has it gone? We cannot blame outsourcing! How come the marketing departments of those companies are not all over this problem. I am sure they realize that all customer touch-points influence the brand - not just the product line-up and the promotional stuff...
...but then again, maybe not.
April 13, 2005
Worst practice - direct mail
I am getting pretty good at spotting unwanted direct mail, but yesterday I got one that stumped me. Although a little suspicious, I was totally convinced that the mail came from FedEx. Of course it didn’t…it just used the same colors and fonts as Fedex (see picture). When I opened I felt like I had been tricked…it was a “get rich quick” sweepstake announcement from TV Guide.
Now I call this a bad practice in direct mail. As a marketer I am all for direct mail (although I wish they would get better at guessing the context in which I am likely to respond to an offer). And I react well to creative pieces – even if they do not pertain to me. But I think that a deceptive piece like this does more to hurt the brand than to help it!
April 1, 2005
Screwing up a perfectly good thing...
Ok...so this may not be totally new anymore, but it got me ticked off enough that I wanted to write about it.
I have been a long time user (and champion) of Ofoto. The other day all Ofoto users received an email from the Kodak Chairman informing us that they were renaming the service to Kodak EasyShare Gallery. Kodak easwhatwasthatnameagain??? Here is another perfect example of how a big company can kill something so innovative...
Ofoto was not only catchy, easy to remember and above all easy to recommend to others. It also occupied a piece of "real estate" in my mind that was (mostly) associated with possitive attributes. Some corporate suit felt that this service would benefit from being renamed to the supremely bland "Kodak Easyshare Gallery"...I must be missing something...not only will I never remember the name of the service when I am at a party and want to recommend the service, but even if I did...the person I would recommend it to would never remember it (and I am not even talking about the fact that url is different from the name...a problem Ofoto did not have!) And that problem is of course exacerbated when I will try to recommend the service to my international friends (what the heck does EasyShare mean in French, Dutch or Urdu anyway?).
I am sure Kodak will spend a fortune trying to rebuild a brand around the new name. The problem with that is twofold...with a name like that it will not work (and in the process they killed a good brand)...and it is a total waste of shareholder money.
I was sufficiently offended by the stupidity of this move that I replied to the email (I thought I was responding to the Chairman of Kodak of course - since he wrote to me) and voiced my opinion on the subject...only to get an automated response saying:
"Greetings from KODAK EASYSHARE Gallery Customer Service. This is an automated reply to your response to our recent email; so a customer service representative will not be replying to your message.
1. To quickly find answers to your questions ..."
Sell your stock if you have any...some companies will never get it!