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My Thanksgiving Message

Posted on : 27-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal

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Today is a day we all look back at the past year to say thank you for what the last year has brought us.  Seems to be a little cliche, especially this year with the financial condition of the world.  I am sure many people are having a leaner thanksgiving due to economic conditions.  I think of these individuals every day.  So I ask when you are saying your thanksgiving prayers please think of those that are less fortunate.  If  you are not religious, just some kind thoughts for others.  We know that they will be back on their feet.

 

When I started to write this post I wanted to say how some poorly run businesses should take the time to be thankful for all the parties and private jets they are enjoying thanks to the generosity of taxpayers.  As you can probably tell, that would not have been a good thanksgiving post.  But as I started to write I realized today is a day that we should really concentrate on our own lives and the good we have seen.  So I will save the negative thoughts for another time.

 

So what am I thankful for?  This year has been a wild ride for my family.  In January our daughter Robyn was born.  She has brought joy to us.  Lily has continued to grow and become a fun happy 2 year old (not always as she is 2, but that is also a fun part of life).  Carolyn continues to put up with me and I love her for it.  We have been busy but we have always been there for each other.  I love my family and I enjoy every moment with them.

 

From a professional perspective I have met so many new friends this year.  I am grateful for all of them.  Thank you for letting me into your life.  I am also thankful for everyone that has provided me feedback.  It has helped me grow and develop the online efforts that I am a part of.  I am also thankful for the great people that I work with.  My team is the best, most dedicated group of individuals I know.  The leadership team at work has been so supportive as have many of the 100,000 employees.  Often it is my name out there (which I am still getting used to it!) but it is really thanks to everyone that I have interacted with at work and on the web. 

 

During my first year at Comcast we have accomplished so much.  Besides efforts to improve service (we still have far to go but we are working on it), we have also moved to our new location.  At the new Comcast Center in Philadelphia, there is a video wall called the Comcast Experience.  It has become a location that many visitors have come to enjoy.  This past week the Holiday Spectacular was introduced on the wall.  Check it out:

 

Anyway, I want to thank all of you for making this year so special.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the welcome and success I have experienced this year.  I wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving.  So what do you have to be thankful for?

When is the Right Time?

Posted on : 23-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Living in Philadelphia, Personal

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For years I have said that I needed to do certain things in life, but always allowing other things to take precedence.  One of those things was finishing school.  It has always been important to me, but life has always sent curve balls, or at least ones that I used as an excuse.  To me having this accomplishment is not about career advancement because I believe if you work hard you can get whatever you want.  It is about the life experience and being able to discuss ones own life experiences to create better, more well rounded individuals.  It is also a great opportunity to learn more and develop new interests.  So what have the excuses been?  Well they have been going on for the past 12 years.

 

When I was in school I was probably not the best student.  I was alway more dedicated to work and friendships.  I actually found many of the classes to be too easy and not challenging.  I always enjoy a good challenge.  So I completed 2 years and then moved into the working world with the intent to go back.  I was successful very quickly.  I think this has to do with work ethics and the ability to retain information easily.  As I continued to grow I decided it was time to consider returning to school.  At the time my wife and I were just about to be married.  I decided to wait after that.  Of course then we were buying a house and moving.  You guest it, wait until after that.  Shortly after moving into our home my wife was pregnant with our Angel Gia.  So I decided until after she was born.  Since she was premature she was in the NICU for 3 months.  After that I was dedicated to her and making sure my family was cared for.  As life was normal, when Gia was 2 I started thinking about school again.  But then right after her 3rd birthday she was diagnosed with cancer which we dealt with for 1 year until her passing.  Then I was not in the mood for school.  The next think I knew it my wife was pregnant with Lily so I found more excuses.  They continued with the Robyn.  When I switched jobs and started to work in the city I decided it was perfect for returning to school.  It is now a year later and I have not started.  But now is time to make this happen!

 

So the first is to decide where is the best place for me.  Living and working in the Philadelphia area I have a number of great places to choose from:

 

  1. Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania – Outstanding school and a place I have always wanted to attend.  It is very expensive but a well respected degree.  But would they accept someone like myself?
  2. Drexel University – Drexel is really known for engineering, but they have broadened their offerings and have worked to create an online program that is a leader in the profession
  3. Temple University – Another really good business school that has created many of the leaders in the Philadelphia area.  This school has a campus near my home as well as one close to work.
  4. Villanova University – This is where my wife and many of her family members attended.  It is a little out of my way, but if I could live the dream and move to the main line area it would be perfect
  5. University of Phoenix – I have heard good stories from adults going back to school and selecting their program.  It is geared toward working adults so they know the importance of time.
So they are the selections I have to chose from.  There are probably many others too, especially in the Philadelphia area.  What I would have to look into is credit transfer, life credits (always worth asking about!), and costs.  I am lucky Comcast does have a good education program.  At the same time I am not looking forward to the initial outlay of funds.  Of course I have to make sure I do not use that as an excuse.  
So why do I write this post today?  Well I am sure my many friends will make sure I remain focused on this goal.  I read somewhere that for those trying to accomplish tasks, pressure from online friends can be a great help.  Have you procrastinated on something that you really want to achieve?  Have you used social media to make sure you accomplished it? What recommendations do you have for me?  You can also email me at work frank_eliason@cable.comcast.com if you have helpful advice.

Social Media is Personal? Maybe not

Posted on : 22-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Social Media

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This morning I was having a conversation on Twitter about avatars and being personal.  I am now a big believer in the need to be personal, and when possible using a photo instead of symbol.  I changed mine a while back to a picture based on feedback.  But this caused me to think a little bit more about the personal side of social media.  Very specifically the number of comments on the internet that are made by individuals not based on their experiences or to because they want to attack an individual or corporation.  This is what I see as the potential downfall for social media. 

 

It is expected, and I think very necessary that companies follow certain ethical guideline:

  1. Be Respectful of individuals and the space you are interacting
  2. Be Open and Honest with who you are and the company you represent
  3. Protect privacy of Customers
  4. Allow others to express opinion even if differing from your own
WOMMA has created ethical guidelines that are very similar.  But what are the guidelines for individuals.  As with anything there will be individuals that will not abide by guidelines.  These individuals will attack others online, or attack corporations and there products.  I have seen this many times and the way I chose to interact with these individuals in the same manner I would anyone else.  I always strive to be kind and helpful.  I understand that they may have underlying reasons for the passion and repeated attacks.  In a handful of times it has been kid having “fun.”  Other times it is someone that has personal gains that they would like to make.   There are times I can never figure out what the benefit or gain the individual is looking for.  I have found some to not even be a Customer at all. 
This to me is similar to many of the cyber bully stories we have read, except instead of the attacks and mis-representations targeting kids, it is corporations or adults.  Many are false but since it is hard to track it back to the individual they feel they can say anything.  Sometimes it is done in a very convincing manner.
Say you are running a bank and a person has not been making payments ever.  Now they are online trashing the company.  Based on collections rules, even if you could identify the person, you could not publicly state this fact.  What if an employee was terminated for cause, or maybe not even for cause, but due to the closure of a facility.  Now they are online making statements about your company but certainly not willing to disclose this important fact.  You can try to make known what statements are false.  They could be pretending to be a Customer with a variety of issues that you are unable to confirm.  But because they will not provide information you can not look into the validity.  You would not want to question the statements just offer help.
Here are some rules to help companies on the web:
  1. Attempt to respond with kindness and offers of assistance
  2. Do not take the attacks personally and remember that your kindness will show
  3. You will not be able to help in every circumstance, but if you have a good track record people will see it.  It is okay to leave a final word ending a conversation that leaves the door open for them to contact you.  I have done this with leaving my email. 

I think this has been a barrier to entry for many companies because they say why should I bother, I can not identify the person saying these things, so I can not change their mind.  I obviously disagree with that perspective and I think you have to concentrate on what you do well and helping when possible.  Similar to interactions in person or phone it is best to kill them with kindness.

 

Should there be ethical guidelines for internet users?  How would you handle these type of interactions?  Do you see this as a potential problem?

Listening to Your Customers

Posted on : 20-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media

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I have discussed a few aspects of the work of my team and the importance of companies to listen to their Customers through any communication channel.  Those that heard me speak know that I like social media because it is unaltered, not interpreted story of the Customer.  Through all my years in Customer Service, I have always been a proponent of change.  I believe change is important for individuals and companies.  The trouble is I have found companies do not always change based on numbers.  Yes if they lose a lot of Customer or income, maybe but that does not always address Customer pinch points that exist.  What I have always found is companies have the most change when they can relate to what a Customer is going through.  A great place to find this is in social media.  This is in blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and numerous other places.  It is really wherever your Customers are.

 

Many companies do not know how to listen.  Listening is not hiring a firm to provide all kinds of numbers based on finding in the blogosphere.  I have also heard people say if companies want to know what Customers think to search google for the company name and “sucks.”  Sorry they are both wrong answers.  I applaud companies that understand the important aspects of social media that they are collecting both of these data points.  But these are really just data or numbers.  The better option is to actually read stories or posts.  It is also just as important to review the comments that go with those posts.  I am not recommending companies spend thousands of dollars on fancy gadgets.  What I recommend is so easy, anyone can do it.  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Google Blog Search – Simply follow the link, search your brand, then click on posts for the last day, or last week (this is an option on the left hand side).  This will provide some recent stories of how people use your products, good experiences they have had and some opportunity areas.
  2. Twitter Search – This usually provides much more immediate information before blogs.  But again just as simple, type in your brand name and see what people are saying.  If you find an interesting tweet, click on the name to see other tweets from that person.  An even better idea is to open Twitter search in a new tab or window and just search the Twitter name.  This will allow you to view more of the 2 way conversation.  Imagine if you had the ability to review conversations about your product or company?  Well with Twitter you can (at least portions of it – some posts may not be in search because they are from someone keeping information private.
  3. Forums – We all know forums that are dedicated to the business we are in.  Drift in and read through some of the posts.

These are great tools that make it really easy.  But after that is where is becomes key.  You can share some of the data that you find, but did you find an interesting story?  If you want to prove my point about stories, than over a few day period share some numbers.  After a week or so, add in a story that you find and watch what happens.  People will ask more questions and they will be more passionate about what you are finding.  The same reaction will happen when sharing data from other sources.  I have worked in Customer Service centers.  Most of the time I shared numbers.  Once in a while I would add Customer stories to the numbers.  This always brought reaction.  You do not even have to share negative stories, because the same happens with positive stories.

When is the last time you shared a story at work?  Did you receive a different reaction compared to data?

Earn the Right to Sell

Posted on : 19-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Social Media

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Many marketers want to know the best ways to sell in social media spaces.  I have seen these sell attempts made on posts made on blogs, forums or twitter.  As with anyone I applaud them for recognizing the social media spaces as being important to their business.  I agree it is probably going to be one of the most important areas for companies in the future.

 

I may be a simple service person and not a marketer by trade, but I do think I know a little bit about this space.  To me social media is the same as talking to a Customer during a phone conversation or in person.  It never works when you throw something out there for the Customer to buy.  When I spent more time managing people I always taught them to earn the right to sell.  You do this by providing the best service and resolving any concerns.  Once you do this, it is simple to review and offer something that is appropriate for the Customer.  If nothing is appropriate, then nothing should be offered.  It is letting the Customer guide the approach.

 

In social media the same is true.  The first step would be to build relationships and earn the respect in the space.  The way you build relationships is first listening.  Doing so, you will understand the audience and the way interactions occur.  It also allows you to learn about your brand and how companies use your products.  The next step would be to engage with your Customers in the space.  This is probably the most rewarding of the steps for company (at least in my personal opinion).  There is nothing more fun than the opportunity to chat with your Customers.  Once you do all this, then, and only then, can you consider selling.  At the same time, just like in a phone call, it is only good to sell what it is appropriate for the needs of the Customer, or in the case of social media, the Customers involved.  The other key (now this goes back to listening) is that it must be relevant.  It must be a solution or fulfill a need.

 

This may be against the grain of many regarding selling, but I think in this space where the Customer has a high degree of control, it is necessary.  Otherwise people will shut you out and not listen, which is also easy to do in this space.  What are your thoughts?

You Might Get a Headache from Social Media

Posted on : 18-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Social Media

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How effective is your company listening to social media?  Do you have the ability to respond quickly and effectively within the space.  Everyone knows my story on Twitter, so I will not go into that here.  But one thing I have always said is the true ROI for being involved in social media is the cost for not being involved.  Over the past few days a story began to unfold regarding a brand many of us have used (although based on what I have seen, many will not use going forward).  The brand is Motrin.  Lets watch a little of this headache unfold:

It all started with this ad campaign (you can provide your own adjectives). I think Peggy Olson (Mad Men) would have told Donald Draper no on this one! 

 

 

That was the beginning of the headache for the maker of Motrin, McNeil Consumer Healthcare (A division of Johnson and Johnson).  As I have stated before, one of the reasons Twitter is a good place for business is news starts in places like that or online forums.  From there it usually spreads to other sources such as blogs, or in this case You Tube.  Eventually the information finds its way to traditional media.  Well this is just one of those stories.  So after the ad campaign began, let the tweets and the headache begin.  Here is an image of the website:

 

Moms began to tweet about the offensive nature of the ad.  These mom’s made it clear that it is not a pain to hold their child close to them and they love to do it.  So this ad was truly backfiring on them and they did not know it, at least until someone decided to build the video.  Instead of rebuilding all the tweets, check out the You Tube video created:

 

 

This started numerous blog posts on the topic.  Check out Google Blogsearch, Twitter Search, or a search of You Tube.  This caused a large hit to the brand that will show in search results for a long time to come.  Now at this time the company has posted an apology on the Motrin website:

 

 

There are a number of lessons for brands.

  1. Common Sense Marketing - First and foremost use common sense in advertising.  I am not a marketing person, but I could see this one coming the moment I saw the ad.
  2. Listening in Social Media – Listen to spaces such as Twitter because it will give you a heads up very early and hopefully respond before there is a video and numerous blog entries such as this one.
  3. Engagement – If you had individuals already in spaces like Twitter, reaching out at the time of the initial tweets may have prevented this (although no guarantee).  It at least would have made it so some of the individuals would have known the brand was listening.  I will write a post soon on engagement by companies! 
  4. Rapid Response Culture – Create a rapid response culture that would allow this to be escalated to the right people and decisions made immediately.

I would like to thank the Moms on Twitter for sharing the story – I have become friends with many of you and I appreciate all the hard work you do.  I also found the blog posts from David Armano and Pete Blackshaw very helpful (as always)

For Sale: Customer Activism in a Web 2.0 Era

Posted on : 17-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Social Media

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I am a firm believer that Customer Service and public discussions on the web will be an alternate channel similar to phone, email, or chat.  At the same time I was not surprised to learn that the Consumerist on Friday announced that their parent company, Gawker Media, was putting the web property up for sale.  Recently Get Satisfaction started a pay program to provide more control to companies.  Will websites such as these ever be a profitable place?  Are they even needed with all the blogs and other website out there?

 

 

Well let me start of by saying I regularly view the Consumerist, and I have for a long time.  I think Ben and Meg are great and they really are trying to get companies to think about their Customer differently.  The trouble to the model is the website is ad supported, although the ads are minimal.  It looks like most of them are google ads that pay on a per click basis.  I am sure more money would be available if the ads were sold directly, but what company would buy ads in that space?  It would have to be an against the grain company.  Would there be a perceived bias towards those that purchase ads.  I know that it would not impact Meg or Ben, but if a company was blasted for something, would that mean that they would pull the ad?  Would a subscriber model work better?

 

 

Get Satisfaction recently started an effort to make money by offering an advanced moderation services to companies paying a fee of $49 per month or a better package at $120 per month and a pro service at $349 per month.  I applaud their effort to make sure the business model is profitable and long lasting.  It is important for any company to try to be successful.  The team at Get Satisfaction built great tools and have the ability to really expand on that.  The trouble is in this economic environment I am not sure I can justify the expense to my employer.  Especially since complaints and compliments are not limited to one website, but rather throughout the internet.  I will continue to watch the website and consider it as the tools advance.  At the same time I am not sure enough companies will pay that much to make the company sustainable.   This is especially true in the current economic environment where everybody is cutting back on expenses.  I wish them well in this effort!

Another website, and one of the original for providing feedback, is one I have used called Planet Feedback.  The way this website works is you fill out a letter to the company.  You also answer a number of questions, like would your recommend, would you like to share the letter publicly, mood, propensity to tell others, etc.  This is a fun way to tell a company what you think and I will say from personal experience it works.  This website was originally founded by Pete Blackshaw, and went through a few other owners, with Pete’s continued involvement.  Again the website is back in Pete’s hands.  The question is how can a website like this be financially feasible?  The concept is great, but many people have access to email company leaders by doing a simple google search.

 

I think these are different models for consumer activism that are present today, and truthfully I hope for a long time to come.  The trouble is they are not necessarily going to have the best way to make money.  I think a website like the Consumerist would do better using a subscription based model, but would their readers pay that?  I know I would, but not sure if it would make enough money.  Get Satisfaction and Planet Feedback are interesting websites with some strong data available for companies.  Get Satisfaction would do best by building analytics centered around all web 2.0 spaces talking about a company.  They already involve Twitter.  That would be something worth paying for and creating the ability to centralize it.   Planet feedback could consider developing a method for companies to collect and analyze feedback from other sources.  They could also consider creating a program for companies to manage letters and emails.  The trouble for these websites is they are competing with personal blogs, forums discussing companies, twitter and many other websites where the Customer may already be.

 

What is the best way for these websites to continue to exist?  Should they consider being part of a non-profit dedicated to Customer Satisfaction?  Would you pay to subscribe?  If you were a company would you pay to use the service?

Running through the Streets of Vegas with Pete Blackshaw!

Posted on : 16-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Social Media

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So Wednesday morning I am exchanging private tweets with Pete Blackshaw from Nielsen Online (BuzzMetrics) and author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customer Tell 3000.  The next thing I know I am off to the WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas.  WOMMA is the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.  Pete was doing a presentation about his book and my work is a good case study.  As I was flying out to Vegas I sat and reflected on the past year, the changes that have happened at work, all my new friends, and changes within my life.  This has been one eventful year.  The next few days were also very eventful!

 

So I flew out late on Wednesday so I could see the presentation by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  I walked in to say hi to Tony but he had to rush off to go into the wienermobile.  I looked to my left and sure enough there was the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.  I knew this would be an interesting few days!

 

 

Tony took the time to discuss the Zappos culture and how the passion of the team leads to above and beyond service.  This in turn leads to repeat business and word of mouth for his company.  I will not talk all about it because I think the topic could be a blog post by itself.  I have had the opportunity to tour Zappos and meet many of the great people there.  I will write a post soon that discusses some of that.  Even though I have heard the story before I always enjoy the opportunity to hear it again.

 

As the day progressed, I was asked to join another panel with @davidalston, @boughb and @akeats.  We were discussing employees as Word of Mouth Ambassadors for your company.  It was fun to talk on this topic with a great group of people.  I have always felt that employees are always the best ambassadors for a company.  The conversation typically drifted to online, but I find the same to be true offline.  It is so important for employees to want to be ambassadors for the company they work for.  If they are not, they may want to consider where they are working!

 

So after the great day we went to a meet and greet at a bowling alley at the Rio.  There I had some great conversations with many of the participants.  After the cocktails, many of us went separate way to meet for dinner.  They did something very interesting, they had everyone sign up for dinner in smaller groups.  Pete signed us up for dinner at the Tau.  Tau is located in the Venetian so I did enjoy seeing the look of the building.  I have been to Venice twice, so it was interesting to see the Vegas version.

 

 

So we had a lovely dinner at Tau.  The ambiance there was very interesting.  In fact I think it led me to believe the food would be better than it really was.  At the same time it was an interesting conversation with Pete and John Bell, Managing Director and Executive Creative Director for Ogilvy PR.  We were discussing social media and its influences in different parts of the world.

 

So after dinner Pete decides he is interested in checking out the club located within the restaurant (I think it was his mixture of drinks – Red Bull and Espresso).  We went walking up to the third floor only to be stopped by a bouncer telling us we need to have our hand stamped and to see our waiter.  So we go to our waiter to get our hand stamped.  Of course this now requires 3 different people to eventually get done.  We make our way back up to the 3rd floor only to be told the stamp just helps us move to the front of the line.  Since we did not intend to spend much time, it was not worth the cover charge, so we decided to leave.  We walked around the Venetian working our way across the street.  At this time we decide to go to check out the water show at the Bellagio.  Not seeing it before, I was interested.  The next thing I know Pete asks what time is it.  It was 10:56.  He turns to me and says we can make.  He starts running.  Of course I have to follow.  It seemed really close, it is just on the other side of Caesars Palace.  So we are running for what seems like forever.  Through the whole run, people were just staring at us like we were crazy.  That is a strange feeling when you are in Vegas.  Anyway we did make it for the 11:00 show.  It was really neat to see.  Here is a version I found on You Tube: 

 

 

Once it was finally over, an announcement came on to say that the next showing would be in 15 minutes.  I ran all that way to save those few minutes?  Thanks Pete!

 

After it was over Pete and I walked back to the Rio talking about some of the contemplation I did on the way to Vegas.  He was encouraging me, and advising me how to write a book.  He thought it would be a compelling story.  From our original use of our website to share updates regarding Gia to the past year, that can only be described as wild.  I enjoyed Pete’s insights.

 

The next day Pete and I did the keynote for the WOMMA conference.  It went very well and the reaction from everyone seemed to be very positive.

 

For anyone that has been to Vegas, you know there are many strange things to see.  Have you ever seen anything more odd than Pete and I running through the streets?  I am not sure I have!

Does US Airways Care?

Posted on : 15-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service

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I originally planned this post to be about the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA – I just really like to say WOMMA, so that calls for a post!).  Well this trip was a last minute decision and because of that I had limited selection of flights.  This made me realize how far below par service has gone with the airline industry, specifically US Air.  It is sad to see how far it has gone since my last flights about a year ago.  So lets go over my travel experience in the past 8 weeks:

 

SOUTHWEST

Well when I was traveling to Blog World, I purposely chose Southwest because of their great efforts in social media (Check them out on Twitter or their corporate blog).  It was an okay experience.  On the way over I was one of the early people going on the plane and the seat selection was good.  Now on the flight over I was expecting to see some of the excitement on the flight that I have heard about and also seen on the A&E show.  To be honest I did not see it, and I was very bored on the flight, but it was okay.  Now this flight had a connection in Phoenix.  During the short hop to Vegas the crew was great and it was a fun hour, but my opinion was probably driven from the initial flight.  So I would label it an okay first trip on the airline.  The way back was another story.  First I was unable to check in early (lack of printer) so I was one of the last to load.  It did not help that I was late getting to the airport.  When I was getting on the plane I saw many couples who could not sit with their loved ones due to the boarding process without seat assignments.  This made me think this was probably not the perfect approach.  The way back the crews on both flights did help create the Southwest experience.  Unfortunately I had an older couple (that did not appear to know each other prior to the flight) create a much different experience for me that I will never forget, and wish I could.  That is as far as I will go into now.  So overall Southwest was okay but I really prefer to pick my own seat.  My experience was mainly impacted by the Customers sitting next to me on the flight back and that was the reason I did not select them in future flights.  I have since learned that they do offer preferred boarding for business Customers at a fee of $25.  What they do not have is extra baggage fees and I did get a soda!

 

US Air Trip 1

My next trip was to Scottsdale/Phoenix for the Marketing Profs conference.  I actually booked through the work travel agency and I select United since it was listed as preferred.  I did not realize when I did this that it was actually US Air.  I have had a few poor experiences with US Air in the past and I do sometimes hold a grudge.  Well I went with it.  Because I did not realize it was US Air, I then had trouble checking in on the computer, they really should make it easier when flying a partner.  So I go to the airport and the first thing I was greeted with was a $17 fee for a checking my bag.  Not a second bag, but a first.  I found this to be irritating, but okay I will go with it (not like I have a choice).  The flight itself was okay but I did not think to eat prior to getting on the flight.  I do remember hearing about the fees for food and soda but I did not think of it.  So anyway I get on the flight and the attitude presented during the announcements, particularly about food pricing was ridiculous.  “We have limited supplies so if you do not get your choice do not blame us.”  As the representative of the company who else would I blame, the person stuck in the seat next to me?  So true to their word they did run out (I was not even sitting far back) so I did not have my choice but instead a lousy salad ($7) and a soda ($2).  My message here is if you are going to charge, it should be better and have the right quantity.  But to me it was all in the attitude of the employees and the approach.  The return flight was similar too.

 

American Airlines

After the first 2 experiences I decided to try a different airline for my trip to Dallas to attend the Forrester Conference.  Just like US Air, they were just as irritating over the fees.  At the same time they were great with allowing us to go standby for an earlier flight.  In fact they made it easy to do at the kiosk.  The flight over was good.  I enjoyed the movie.  On the way back I did not have an issue, but others did.  There was a problem with the video system, but they did sell headsets before hand.  They did this even though they later admitted to knowing that it was broken based on feedback from the prior crew.  I also did not notice them proactively reimburse for the now useless headsets.  To their credit I will say they did replace a broken one for a Customer that had a problem with his prior to getting onboard.  I did notice on both ends of the trip that they were announcing exactly what to expect with other flights for those with connections.  I did not have a connection, but I did notice this and thought it was nice.  Overall it was an okay trip but for the same price I think I will go back to Southwest.

US Air Trip 2

Well this is where I really began to see the disconnect with Customers.  At the last minute I was asked to speak with Pete Blackshaw at the WOMMA conference.  I had limited availability of direct flights.  In fact the only real choice was US Air.  I booked the round trip ticket leaving only a few hours later.  This time I was smart.  My wife picked up a small carry on and I had something to eat at the airport before taking off.  I actually slept most of the way there.  So on the way over I immediately noticed something strange.  When going over the preflight instructions they did not use the video.  Instead they were going over the seat belt think in a similar fashion (although not as fun) as Southwest.  I immediately looked up and noticed the flight had screens, but they did not come down.  I then pulled out the book to see what movies they would have.  When I turned to the page there was notice that effective November 1st not entertainment will be provided for any destinations except international and Hawaii.  This was the only reason to chose this airline over one like Southwest.

Well on Friday I decided to try to take the earlier flight home.  I thought it would be better than a red-eye I was scheduled for.  I went to the airport and went up to ask about flying standby.  Unlike American, I was directed to speak with someone instead of the kiosk.  I waited in line and I watched someone being helped being told about a $50 fee.  He was very irritated.  So anyway I get up to the counter.  I ask about flying standby.  The woman responds “The flight is not filled, so that would be a $50 fee.”  So I respond “So let me understand, the flight is not filled, so instead of having my seat available at a later flight, and you might be able to sell it, I will be charged $50.”  She responds “yes.”  Well I made it clear that I will not be flying US Air in the future.  She then reviewed the ticket and said, “Oh you have a fully refundable ticket, so there will not be a charge.”  Gee thanks, but you already made clear how you and the airline feel about me and other Customers.  So I did not have to pay the fee but it did influence me for a long time to come.  It is obvious the leaders of the company are okay with irritating Customers and that is not her fault.  But I can make my choice with my money.

So anyway, I get on the flight, which was running close to an hour late.  When we got on the plane the faces of the crew members made it clear that they were not very interested in being there.  I also found I was seated in the last row window seat.  Okay I guess my reaction penalized me by the privilege of being the last off the plane.  The pilot made a number of announcements throughout the trip.  He sounded like he was a fun guy, but in each of the announcement he kept making clear that yes we are late, but do not worry about your connections, because it is Philly and there are going to be many of delays of other flights.  That is a great confidence builder in US Air.  I did not care because for me because Philly was my final destination.  Another aspect to the announcement was he was very clear to not ask any of the crew about connections because they do not know and will not know.  His instruction was when you get off the plane see a Customer Service agent.  Isn’t Customer Service everyone’s role? 

 

I know that I will have to find the right airline for me.  It is probably going to be Southwest, at least if I can figure out the seating thing much better.  The one thing that is clear is US Air is not a good premium, standard or discount airline.  I think it is imperative for them to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, or else I would not expect them to be around much longer.  I know I do not plan to fly with them.  I know I will try Southwest again, and I am sure I will give others a shot.  Does this industry even care about Customers?  Which ones will be able to lure you back based on Service?

An Amazing CEO! Maxine Clark

Posted on : 11-11-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Inspirational

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A passion of mine has always been good Customer Service.  I look for it with every interaction I have with companies.  I also tend to be very vocal when I do not receive service that I expect to receive.  I feel it is important to be just as vocal when things are done that just overwhelm you for being so far above that words can not describe.  I have had just one of those experiences a number of years ago.  The woman that went so far above and beyond that I still think about today is a woman named Maxine Clark.

 

Many of you have never heard of Maxine.  She was a leader in the former May Department Store chain, and she served as President of Payless Shoe Source from 1992 to 1996.  I never heard of Maxine either, until one Saturday night.  That is when I came into this amazing woman who founded Build a Bear Workshop in 1997.  We received mail addressed to our deceased daughter Gia, a little over a year after she past.  To be honest I was in a rage over it, I could not figure how a company would have her name.  I obviously was not thinking straight because one of my fondest memories with Gia was at a Build a Bear Workshop.  I immediately looked up the CEO of Build a Bear and fired off an email asking to have her name removed from the mailing list.  To my surprise I almost immediately received a response from Maxine.  This began numerous emails back and forth.  She was very apologetic, but beyond that she wanted to learn more about us.  She started to review our website.  She also asked some questions to better understand what we went through.  I can’t tell you how impressed I was by her.  She was down to earth, yet a smart and savvy business person.  She has firm beliefs regarding service and she is obviously very hands on in creating the right experience for every child that enters her store.  I immediately knew I would be dedicated to her organization.  The interesting thing was she totally had me turned around by simply being herself.

 

Now if the emails were not enough, she was impressed with our work for charities and wanted to offer something to help them.  She asked about our favorite charities.  At the time they were the Candlelighters of Delaware (a great charity helping families dealing with pediatric cancer) and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  Her team contacted these charities.  They provided numerous gift cards for Candlelighters to be distributed to the families going through so much.  You would not believe the gratitude from these families and this small charity.  Maxine and her team made a huge difference for so many people.  Build a Bear also donated parties to be auctioned off by the CF Foundation during an Evening with the Philadelphia Eagles, an event I helped organize and the year prior I was the speaker.  Unfortunately an employee of that charity kept asking for more.  To this day I am upset by that.  So on behalf of families dealing with CF, I apologize to the Build a Bear team and Maxine.  That individual is not associated with the charity anymore.  Anyway, Build a Bear went so far above the normal and I am so appreciative for what Maxine did.  She and her team have made a difference in many people’s lives.

 

All I wanted to do was make sure we did not get mail in Gia’s name.  There was no need for Maxine to do anything beyond that.  In fact from a business perspective, Lily and Robyn were not born yet, so I did not anticipate purchasing in the future.  But of course now I will.  Maxine, you truly did build a company with a heart, it is modeled after you!  

 

Have you ever have someone turn a negative situation into such a positive that you would think about it years later?