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Part of Marketing is Knowing Who You Are

Posted on : 30-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Leadership, Marketing

Tags: ,


First I hope everyone experienced an amazing year this past year and is looking ahead to an even better 2011.  I started this post to be the typical well wishes and a handful of predictions for the year ahead, but in some ways that gets so passé.  But then last night and today a topic hit home and I decided that was a more appropriate post to end the year with.  I will still throw a few predictions at the end of this post.

So yesterday @BarryMoltz Twittered out “Can you celebrate others achievements without comparing them to your own?”  I quickly responded “sure. I am not trying to be them, I am trying to be me. I would be happy for their success.”  This conversation was followed up today by a post I really enjoyed by Chris Brogan “The Evolution of Chris Brogan.”  In the post Chris describes what his true brand is and what he is all about.  It was interesting reading his history.  I first noticed the post on Facebook and I posted the following response:

“The key is you are you and I respect that. Too many strive to be others when the key is be comfortable with yourself and achieving your goals. Thanks for writing this. It is a topic on my mind as well, although not who is Chris! Happy new year and continued success”

The one challenge to posting a comment to a Chris Brogan Facebook post is I receive a lot of emails with comments from others (I know I can turn that off, but I typically enjoy it. Of course Chris receives more comments than most people I know).  One of the comments was negative toward the post, asking Chris to focus less on himself and more on Chris’ knowledge of marketing.  To me the post was exactly about Chris’ knowledge of marketing and relayed a lot of information to the reader of what Chris has learned over the years, the value he offers his readers, his business value in this changing world and what his businesses are offering to non-profits and businesses that wish to hire them.

We also learn another, more human aspect, that ties into the Twitter conversation I had last night with Barry.  We are all a product of our history, and that is what makes us special.  There is never a need to try to be someone we are not or try to be someone else.  Every year we get the chance to evolve, learn, grow, and in some cases step back.  This is the best part of being human.  One of the biggest things I learned this year is I am happy being me.  There have been times where I contemplated where I was headed, even tried to emulate people I was not.  I think this is all part of the growing process.  I joked a lot over the past year that I was trying to decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, but it really was not a joke.  I was debating in my own mind and which path was the right one for me.  You see Customer Service professionals are not always looked upon as highly as they should.  This is part of my history and adds to this quest to be more.  Today as I write this I have come to respect that I am a service visionary and I have been provided a forum to help lead a change in the way business views the Customer.   I am not only comfortable with this, it is who I am, and I am proud of it.

Knowing who you are is key to marketing yourself, just as knowing what your business stands for is key to marketing your business.

Now I promised a few predictions for the year ahead, so here they are:

  • DOWNTURN IN SOCIAL – To the surprise of many but I expect a dip in social media activity, especially on Facebook and Twitter for at least two quarters next year.  This will not last long, but the everyday person using social media will have privacy concerns and will step back to determine how they wish to use the space
  • TWITTER SELLS – By the end of 2011 Twitter will be forced to sell as they continue to strive to build a sustainable financial model, investors will want to see a return on investment
  • TRADITIONAL MARKETERS BACK AWAY – Many marketers are still looking for that silver bullet marketing concept, and when they can not hit the magic mark, social will not appear as sexy as it does today
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE – We will see improvements from many companies as they start to focus more on the Customer experience.  We will also see a dramatic rise in the number of companies who have Chief Customer Officers as part of the C-Suite
  • SOCIAL TOOLS – We will continue to see a rise in the number of tools for social media, but the market will begin to mature and we will see a consolidation and reduction in the number of players for listening platforms.  The rise will be in CRM variations and visual analysis.
  • THE APP WORLD – I know many loves apps, but with so many variations in devices we will see a revamped effort of companies to focus on mobile web experiences, which will be easier to accomplish than multiple versions of apps

Leadership Buried in the Snow

Posted on : 29-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Leadership

Tags: , ,


This week many parts of the northeast experienced an unexpected blizzard causing massive trouble.  The cleanup is taking much longer than expected, especially in New York City.  I am sure over the next few weeks we will see a lot of finger pointing, and in most cases well deserved.

First lets take a look at this video that went viral yesterday (please note language many not be appropriate around children):

The video shows NYC workers who clearly do not care for the people they serve.  I know they will be the ones blamed, and I support that, but what I see here is an environment where they do not car about their Customers at all, and there is little accountability.  What would have happened if there was no video?  I would also be interested in what was going on behind the scenes.  Could there have been a supervisor demanding that they get the bulldozer back to work, no matter the cost?  It could be many things, but as I looked deeper at this issue it turns out the city is in the process of demoting 100 supervisors and losing 100 more through attrition.  Many are saying the union is actively having a work slow down based on these cuts.  If so, shame on the union for doing this to their Customers, and the people who could be the biggest advocates for them.  In my time in NY I have observed many of the sanitation workers doing their best to create the best city possible.  In fact in prior storms the city residents have usually applauded their work.  Not this time and that is sad because I am sure many are working very hard to do the right thing.  In this changing world the court of public opinion is key and it will impact how governments, businesses and even unions work.  The video you see above was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the past 24 hours.  I do not think it will help any of the parties involved.  Welcome to the connected world!

Now lets head over to the airport to see the fun going on there.  Yesterday I was horrified as I read this CNN article ‘Airline Passengers Unloaded After 11 Hours on the JFK Tarmac.’  Here is a video:

I should point out that the New York area airports are run by the Port Authority of NY & NJ and not directly related to the streets department in the video above.  I could not help but think about what it would be like stuck on a plane that had arrived at the destination for that amount of time.  On multiple occasions I have been on the tarmac at other airports for about 3 hours, and I know I was going stir crazy.  It is a little unclear as to the actual cause.  I have seen finger pointing to the airlines for not checking if a gate was available prior to taking off as well as statements about the lack of available Customs agents.  Customs has stated that they have people at JFK 24/7.  In my opinion, this is about neither one of those.  First the flight was permitted to land at the airport, so at that point the airport takes on the responsibility.  I am not well versed on how airports run, but I would venture to guess that a plane landing and sitting on the tarmac is the responsibility of air traffic control, as well as the leaders of the airport.  If I assume the statements of gate availability and lack of Customs officers are the true cause, I still blame airport leadership and air traffic control.  It is clear that no one cared about the passengers.  A leader is sometimes faced with difficult choices, and in some cases must break the rules.  In this case I am confident that individuals recognized how horrible this must have been but they were afraid to make decisions.  The rules are no international plane can disembark on American soil without clearing Customs first.  If I were the leader of the airport I would have contacted the highest levels available to me at Customs to find a solution.  As part of that conversation I would have proposed allowing them to disembark in another area, hopefully somewhat confined (but not remain on the tight quarters of a plane), until officers were ready to proceed.  If that was not acceptable to US Customs, I would have made the decision to move ahead if they did not find another solution in a reasonable time.  In terms of not having available space, there are 2 clear options.  First is moving planes in slots, but not actively in use.  I think it is safe to say that the airport has relationships with other airlines and could have pulled in this favor.  If this was not possible due to lack of pilots to move the planes, then I would have moved the planes closest to a terminal and then used stairs to disembark, or at least provide the option.  These choices would be difficult, and could have led to being arrested, but they would have been the right choices for the passengers, the Customers in this case.  The court of public opinion would have seen this as the right thing to do.

We are in a new world order, and in the past things like this would not be as open as they are today.  Leaders, whether they are union leaders, government leaders, or in business must be willing to make tough choices that are the right thing to do.  Trying to lead others by fear is wrong, but more importantly leading is sometimes making tough choices and partnering with others to find solutions.  I expect both these incidents will create change, but I hope people look at what was truly the cause of the incidents instead of just the people directly involved.

Thoughts on Personal Branding Helping and Hurting Professional Brands

Posted on : 28-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media


Today I received a Google alert regarding a post by Brett Greene over at his Blind Influence blog.  The post, titles ‘How Personal Branding Helps and Hurts Professional Brands‘ was based on a recent #PR20chat on Twitter.  The topic is one I have thought a lot about since leaving my role with Comcast, and one that I thought deserved a post.  The basic concept behind the post, and I would assume the #PR20Chat was the following:

  • Personal Relationships Do Not Scale
  • Personal Brand & the Company Are Intertwined and Take Time To Disassociate the Two
  • Personal Brands Are A Catch 22 but the Benefits Outweigh the Risks

Regarding the first point, I would say they definitely scale but the key is getting to the point where there are multiple people representing the brand.  I take blame for this at Comcast because when I started on Twitter I did get nervous about the attention we received and I took a lot of time before adding other people on to Twitter accounts.  If I would have done that sooner I would probably not have been so worn out and everyone would have had more connections to others from Comcast, just as they did with me.  You can easily look at all the people from Zappos or Dell on Twitter to get an understanding of how this all works.  Although I would like to see this change, nobody expects someone to remain at the same company for life.  This is part of our growing and improving ourselves.  We learn through every life experience.

For me leaving Comcast was bittersweet.  I can tell you I still miss everyone I worked with and the challenge it brought everyday.  I trusted the people I work with and they trusted me.  This relationship was always key.  I knew my team would continue to thrive, and they have.  In fact since leaving, they have actually grown in numbers.  Although the author may not be hearing as much about Comcast, I know they are continuing what we already started.  It may not be talked about as much, or they may not be on the speaking circuit, they are doing it the old fashion way and showing it.  I remain very proud of my former team.  By the way my former Twitter account, @ComcastCares, has more followers today compared to the day I left.  Not that I think Twitter followers is a true measure of performance, it is still an interesting stat.

For me, I know I will be associated with Comcast for a long time, and I am good with that.  I would not have been able to accomplish the success without them.  I will be forever in their debt for that.  Now the author states that people have not heard as much from me since leaving Comcast.  I disagree with that, but I will acknowledge I have been quieter than ever as I take in my new surroundings and ponder what is next.  If you want to know a little of what I have been up to, I am happy to share.  I have spoken at a number of events, and even had the chance to appear on Bloomberg TV while I was at Blogworld.  I have shared some thoughts with Brian Solis in this episode of Revolution:

I also have been working to learn from an incredible team at Citi.  Since joining I have been working with them to launch our Facebook page and strategize to lead the way in servicing our Customers via social media.  One of the challenges in financial services is Customer privacy.  We are getting ready to launch a solution to that, bringing a secured chat environment to Twitter.  I outlined much of that in an article with Ragan PR (this went with this interview filmed when I first joined Citi).  I apologize but you do need a membership to access the article at this point.

From a personal perspective I have been contemplating how I can continue my efforts to improve Customer Service through all communication channels.  In the fall I joined the board of directors for the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, also known as SOCAP.  If all goes as planned, I will be joining the board for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  I am very proud to be a part of both of these groups and I look forward to leading the way to changing the experience for all Customers.  I have also recently started writing a book that I hope will interest each of you, but I am really trying to focus the book on the broader community and helping business leaders connect the dots regarding all the change that is going on around them.  As you can tell it is actually an exciting time for me.

Finally I do agree with the outcome of the post that the benefits far outweigh the risks and as we move forward companies will realize their own employees are the key to social media success.  I think the best response to all of this came from Charlene Li in this video:

At the end of the day, there is no doubt that both Comcast and I have benefited from our relationship and continue to do so.  We both knew when I left that we would be forever connected.  I will be forever grateful to them and they will always have a piece of my heart.  Based on the beautiful goodbye message they provided, I expect they will always have a special place for me.  In fact I know that they will based on my meeting with their CEO Brian Roberts on my last day.  Here is the goodbye message:

January 24 Celebrates the Original Social Customer Advocates

Posted on : 20-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Many think of social Customer Service as starting with Twitter, but that is far from the start.  In the early days of the net, news groups started as a place for like minded people to discuss products, technology, or other items they were passionate about.  Over time these gave way to forums and email groups.  As companies started to embrace these new forms of communication, a new role emerged, the Community Manager.  Today this person may have many more hats, including social strategist, Customer advocate, PR person, marketer, punching bag and a few other names used internally and externally.  The role does not always have a place to reside, or sometimes it is not even recognized at all, yet it is one of the most important roles in the company.

Today in social media we hear about influencers, advocates and other terms to recognize people who are important to the brand.  These advocates are usually built not by connection to the brand, but rather a crusader who took on this role of community manager.  I am proud to be a community manager and a team at Citi as well as my former team at Comcast who each day strive to live up to the expectations the community they serve.  One of the most well loved community managers is Jeremiah Owyang.   The community has shifted from newsgroups, and in some cases forums, to new places like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, blogs, etc.  These are all places where the community manager thrives to learn and engage their Customer.  Although Jeremiah likes to say social service does not scale, he is one of the people who proved how important it is to a company through his prior work as a Community Manager.  We tease each other back and forth about the scale issue, but ultimately we both agree it is imperative for organizations to improve service through all communications channels to help build these Customer advocates.  We know, just like all community managers, it is extraordinarily tough to be a good community manager when a company is not living up to expectations of the Customer.

As a community manager, if you are doing your job well, you are not always the most like internally because you are bringing the community view to the people who make the decisions.  You are servicing as their advocate.  Externally you are striving to keep the peace between top people in the social space you are serving.  Sometimes you are trying to explain the company line even when it is not the popular choice.  There are days you have PR teams and other business leaders against you because you spoke honestly about a situation that was happening live.  The community was thrilled with your performance but others could not understand you were only acknowledging what was already well known.  The trouble is product owners are very proud of their product and they never want to see any bad light shed upon it.  They do not always view things with a Customer lens, as a community manager must do.

In January, 2010 Jeremiah started the annual Community Manager Appreciation Day.  You can read his original post here or the announcement of the 2011 recognition day here.  This year the celebration will be January 24, 2011.  Please use the day to recognize community managers who build your company’s strongest advocates or recognize community managers who have served you.  For me, I plan to recognize my Citi and Comcast teams, Becky Carroll from Verizon’s forums, the Consumerist team, broadband reports forum leaders, Mac Rumors forum leaders, the HP community leaders and of course my friends at RIM (Blackberry).  Who do you plan to recognize?

Humanizing the Brand: Building Partnerships Throughout Your Business

Posted on : 17-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Uncategorized


This post has been a long time coming.  Over the past few years I have sometimes been frustrated by the shortsighted views I hear regarding social media.  Over the years I have heard PR or marketing should own social, to which I always respond the Customer owns social, not the business or these specific business units.  To this point I have always asked the question as to why shouldn’t Customer Service own social, since they are the best equipped to have discussions with Customers.  This is what they do best.  Of course one could make the case that I am just being as short sighted as the PR and marketing teams who state the same about the areas they work in.  But in reality we are all right, yet we are all wrong.
Although the thoughts of this post have built up over the past few years, the inspiration to post it today is based on a post by David Armano in November called ‘Humanizing Business & Brands: Your Ambassador Ecosystem.‘  His post was also cross referenced on Edelman’s blog and today David and Chris Ehrlich exchanged comments that really add to what has been going through my mind.
“The approach to social media as marketing/communications only is not sustainable to business in the long run.” -David Armano

Social is the Disorganized Labor Movement

The sheer numbers of those on Twitter (over 175 million registered users according to their about us page) and Facebook (over 500 million active users per their statistics page) guarantee that many employees are participating in social media.  If you read many employee handbooks you will see restrictions on representing the company in social media.  I apologize to the lawyers, but that is not very enforceable.  Employees are a key part of what people think about the brand and people in social media like to talk about what is one their minds.  Since most people spend 40 hours or more each week working, this is a key part about what is on their minds.  They will and do share the good, bad and ugly as part of their day.  They also connect with many of their friends from work within these communities which helps magnify the voice that they have.  Over the years many companies have threatened, fired, or even promoted people for the voice they have taken in social media.  I have been asked my view on actions companies should be taking, and to me it is not much different then what I would recommend regarding Customers.  First if they are talking, they do have a passion for the company.  If you do not like what they are saying, it is best to listen to them, and talk about it with them.  Maybe it is a point they do not fully understand, so maybe you help them with that.  It can also be a valid point and I would highly recommend listening to them and seeing if there is a way you can improve the employee experience.  The fact is your employees are the brand ambassadors and it is key to give them the tools necessary to achieve this.  I know legal departments are scared of these blurred lines, but that fire is already started and there is not going to be a way to put it out.  Like it or not, the world as we used to know it no longer exists.  Employees are key partners.

Be a Part of the Customer Revolution

I have discussions all the time with Customer Service, marketers and communications experts from major brands. It amazes me the lack of understanding each group has regarding social media. Many marketers have visions of sales galore and viral marketing gone wild. Some of the communications experts have vision of their message spreading like wild fire. Parts of the Customer Service field views the space as snarky and in many cases the ‘lunatic fringe’ of the brand. Of course there are many individuals within these business worlds who do understand the space, and excel at it. The first key message is understanding Customers are really the ones who own the space, and they will be the ones who decide what messages spread. Over the years I continue to hear about ‘influencers’ and how they will drive the right messages. Today your everyday Customer is the true influencer. No one will want to spread a message if your own Customers don’t buy in. Imagine blogging about a brand that is not well liked? What would happen to your influence?

The easiest way to understand this revolution could be reviewing your own habits. If you are like me you do not make a purchase without reading reviews. I have been in the middle of Best Buy and using my phone to read reviews on Amazon or other websites. I have also asked friends their opinions via social media. It is amazing but in many ways we trust people we have never met in person to relay their experience with a product or service.

If you are among the many companies doing social service, I will be the first to tell you this is not enough. Jermiah Owyang over the years has spoken about social Customer Service not being scalable. Well, technically it is scalable. It is easy to queue a tweet or blog post. But I agree fully with his true thoughts, which is that companies need to correct the causes of the trouble in the first place. This means rethinking the way Customer Service operates, improving products based on this feedback and building your Customer base as a community for your products. Unfortunately most companies listening in social are not taking much action to improve the Customer experience. If companies truly want to be a part of social, they must understand the concepts of building community and create their own brand advocates. This is what will lead to the holy grail of social media: Customers leading the charge regarding your brand message and building sales.

We Are All Part of the C-Suite

The key to social media success is not fighting employee involvement or the Customer revolution that is going on, but to embrace it. Encourage your employees to participate in social media and educate them how. Listen to their suggestions as well as those of your Customers. Your employees will be able to build trust in the space and show the expertise they have built within the field. We know from many surveys that people tend to trust people, especially those who are like yourself. The reason Zappos has been so successful in social is their own employees build trust and we can relate to many of them as people like us. Beyond all this, it is key that we break down these silos that separate us within our business. As I mention above, many listen in the space but few take action. This is because much of the listening is taking part within a silo and not shared throughout the organization. I do not care if you are in PR, marketing, Customer Service, or even work for an agency of the company. Each of you represents the company and must strive to improve the business. The company must rethink the typical top down we have seen, but I also think all the other layers within the company must start to feel like they are part of the C-Suite and help the organization improve. You can no longer say it is not my job!