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NSA Leaks: The Big Data Two Step for Businesses This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on June 10, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I expect we will be seeing a lot of dancing over the next few...

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Coming to an Agency Near You! This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 23, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I am often pondering what is next in the world in which we...

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Customer Service Week: Here's Your Call Center This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 7, 2013.  To see the original post click here. As we begin Customer Service Week I want to thank all those...

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Defining the Customer Experience Role This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here. Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses...

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Apple's #Fail When Dealing with @MarthaStewart This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 30, 2013.  To see the original post click here. It feels like it was the Tweet heard around the world: "I...

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Connecting Customers from Around the Globe

Posted on : 25-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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I try not to use this blog for work related items, but I thought I would share the video below.  It is a CNBC interview with Manuel Medina-Mora, Citi CEO of Consumer Banking for the America’s.  You get a feel for the direction of Citi, but also where I see many businesses going.  Today companies are structured based on products and not necessarily how the Customer views the business.  Now is the time for businesses to start to integrate these systems and create a culture centered on the Customer.

If you have trouble with the video loading, please visit the URL directly on CNBC’s website: http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232/?video=1764683291

Customers can’t tell you about…

Posted on : 23-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Leadership

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I continue to hear about listening to Customers and words like innovation, but I wonder how much of this is lip service.  Even more importantly I wonder if thing like Ideation websites and other ways to show Customers you are listening are purely PR and not a true transformation in thoughts within a company.  In my opinion it really comes down to culture.  The reason I feel it is important to provide excellent Customer Service is because, more than ever, the Customer is your marketing.  If you are going to depend on Customers to sell the benefits of your product, you have to provide them the best products and service.  But will Customers help you get this best products?  Thanks to my friends at Mac Rumors, I came across this 1985 Newsweek interview with Steve Jobs (they reprinted it due to Steve’s current leave of absence – I wish him well).  At the time Steve, at the age of 30, recently left Apple and was determining his next steps.  It is fascinating to read his thoughts, especially because I believe he has held true to them 25 years later, but also how they apply to today’s business environment.  I recommend reading through the entire posts, but I want to share a part of one of the responses:

Q. In the end it did get down to who would run the company.
A. I think, more importantly, it was which philosophy and perspective, more than an individual person. You know, my philosophy is—it’s always been very simple. And it has its flaws, which I’ll go into. My philosophy is that everything starts with a great product. So, you know, I obviously believed in listening to customers, but customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. So you have to listen very carefully. But then you have to go and sort of stow away—you have to go hide away with people that really understand the technology, but also really care about the customers, and dream up this next breakthrough. And that’s my perspective, that everything starts with a great product. And that has its flaws. Ihave certainly been accused of not listening to the customers enough. And I think there is probably a certain amount of that that’s valid.

A key aspect to innovation is understanding your Customer and having a passion to create the best products for them.  As Steve points out, Customer may not know what they need next, but you can take Consumer insights and a passionate group of people and truly guide to the next big thing for your industry.  As I read through the entirety of the interview, I wonder if companies, with all the analytical information they have access to, are heading in the right direction.  How much of this innovation is really the artistic abilities of people connected to the needs of the Consumer, but a passion to build something new.  Do we sometimes stifle innovation by using Customer data to show it is not what they want?

The more I think about this, the more Apple’s history can help change the landscape of business in America.  This is not me being a fanboy, but instead relating their history to what we see everyday in business.  In 1983 Apple brought in John Sculley to be CEO.  John was president of Pepsico and a well respected marketer.   You can see very quickly when reading Wikipedia entry for John what eventually happened.  Here is an excerpt from the time Steve was still with the company:

some of the privileges of the elite development groups were trimmed, and projects were subject to stricter review for usefulness, marketability, feasibility, and reasonable cost.

Most people in business would read that quote and say absolutely.  Now I want you to put the Steve Jobs hat on.  Steve would view this as stifling innovation and placing costs ahead of creativity.  I do not see these words being said around Apple much today.  In fact I think the case could be made that the opposite is true.  Of course when you innovate, as Steve said in 1985, it is imperative to have the Customer in mind.  At the end  of the day you have to come out with products that sell.  I alway look at tablets as a good example.  If Steve always kept the data in mind, there is no way we would have ever seen the iPad.  Yet the Apple team created it anyway, and sales are easy proof of success.

Steve Jobs is the ultimate Linchpin but instead of being a Linchpin for Apple, he has really been one for all of business.  After returning to Apple, Steve has proven that the ‘start up’ type business model can scale and be profitable.  Who are some other business leaders that can transform business?  I think there are many, some are good, while others may have created a negative impact.

How Do You Stifle Innovation?

Posted on : 19-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business

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Innovation has been a key term on my mind recently.  It sometimes seems to be the big buzz word in businesses for 2010-2011.  In some ways I get excited by this, and hope to see innovative products from many companies in the coming years.  I always love to try new unique products that look like they would add value to my life.  Of course doing so seems to get costly for me, especially when the products do not fully meet my needs.

All the talk has started me thinking about why innovation is key now?  I would think it would have always been a key term and built into the DNA of most companies.  It is innovation that drives growth for many major companies.  I promise I will not make this another post about Apple!  Although in looking at the era before Steve Jobs returned as CEO you could probably do a whole study on innovation.  BTW I want to wish Steve well and we all hope he returns soon.  I do think the current Apple leadership team does understand innovation.  But this was built into the DNA and helped them created some very different products.

As I look around I do see different times where innovation is stifled at an individual level or in business.  You can think about the individual who has a great game changing idea, but they do not take the risk to bring their product to market.  In business we see this all the time.  It can be someone afraid of all the downsides, such as risk, costs, fear of failure, or many other aspects.  Why is this?  I think some people are predisposed to finding all the reasons not to do something.  This is similar to the alternative of someone who is too aggressive with things.  Unfortunately neither side has a crystal ball to determine what will be the best answer.  The best course of action is determine if the innovation meets the needs of your Customers, and when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask them.  Customers can have amazing insights and they are usually very happy to provide them.

When the concerns are legal, Customer feedback can usually help with that too.  It is also worth the discussion to address some concerns, and see if there are means to mitigate that risk.  At the same time we can look into anything we do and find reasons to say no, but if we did that would we grow?  It is all a balance but in the end, if you can find the path, innovation does not have to be limited to tech companies or newer companies.  Well established firms can easily do it if they create the right culture and have the willingness to accept a failure.  In the end it can be very rewarding for the brand and Customers.

What are some companies that you have found to be innovative?  How do you get past the fears?

How Do You Show You Care?

Posted on : 18-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Inspirational

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Yesterday was the day we recognize a great, peaceful leader in Martin Luther King.  I sometimes wonder how Dr. King or other prominent historic figures would look at our world today.  At times it seems like we have grown so much in society, while other times it seems like we take a number of steps backwards.  Dr. King sought major change via peaceful means, yet today it seems we are sometimes attacking each other in vicious ways over silly issues.  Of course there are other times where everyone seems to come together for a common cause.  I can easily think of Haiti and other natural disasters where the world seems like a smaller place.

What I love about MLK Day is how it has evolved into a day of caring, with volunteerism throughout the US.  Many companies take the day and encourage their employees to volunteer for the day.  Of course I wish we did this more often.  Many companies offer their employees a benefit that allows days off just to volunteer.  This is over and above the usual allotment.  I know Citi, LexisNexis, and Comcast offer a few days a year to do this.  My wife works for LexisNexis and they have participated in many events through the year.  A few years back we did a lot of work with a local park, and the team at LexisNexis took the volunteerism to a new level helping to beautify it.  One of Carolyn’s favorite charities is Cradles to Crayons.  With the proximity to her LexisNexis facility, they were able to have employees there many times throughout the year.  I want to take this opportunity to challenge all companies to come up with similar programs.  It is a great way to give back to the community you serve and it is not about creating a PR event for your company.  It is genuine.

I have been inspired regarding this because of the company my wife works for, as well as my recent employers. I always thought it was a benefit not known well enough by employees. In December I had the opportunity to attend the Salesforce Dreamforce event. During the one session I had the privilege to be further inspired on the topic and I wanted to take the time to share the inspiration with you. I have posted the video from the event below (If you are receiving this via feed the direct URL for the video is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq5aTaMnhuY ). The beginning focuses on Salesforce and the work of their employees. After that there is also an inspirational conversation with Stevie Wonder. If you have time I would recommend checking it out.

What I have found in social media is everyone is committed in giving back in one way or another. My friend Shauna Causey and the entire SMC Seattle Team created something called VolunTweetup as a way to help non-profits with social media. We all want to find a way to give something back. How do you do it? What companies inspire you? What can companies do differently? Does your company provide time off to give back to your community?

So What is a Chief Customer Officer? More than a Title!

Posted on : 15-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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I have heard debate over the years about the Chief Customer Officer role.  Some have debate whether it should be that, or Chief Culture Officer, or Chief Ethics Officer or many other names.  In my mind it does not matter what you call it, but there is a change going on in business that is driving this.  This change is impacting employee relations and the overall Customer experience.  Right now there are many hot terms in business.  A few years back Apple and other tech companies inspired other businesses to look closely at innovation.  Prior to that the other areas were Centers of Excellence, which we still hear mentioned in relation to Social Media.  In the 1990′s many companies were embracing things like Six Sigma, and university style centers for employee education.  In my mind the next hot focus will be Chief Customer Officer.  Let me explain why.

Since invention of radio, and the implementation of one way marketing that we are used to today, Customers and prospective Customers were told by the companies which products were the right ones for them.  In the 1950′s and 1960′s marketers truly honed their skills and success was very easy with the right marketing campaign.  Today marketing is still an imperative aspect of business, but its effectiveness in selling is more limited than ever.  With DVR’s, many commercial are not seen by many as they fast forward through it.  Since I do not receive much mail anymore, I tend to throw out the junk mail without even looking.  There has been some success with product placement in TV and movies, but lets face facts, this is limited in opportunities to be effective.  If a show or movie becomes an infomercial, I have many other choices to change to.  Online ads can have some success but again, I have other choices of websites for virtually anything, so if I want I can easily ignore them as well.  There are many who believe the key is enticing influencers to speak about their products, but my opinion is an influencer uses the influence to tout products, they can easily lose their influence.  Everything is a balance.  Now do not get me wrong, I still believe marketing is an important aspect to business, and will remain that way.  But the key is how do you best reach and expand your Customer base in this new environment?

Before we answer that question, we should then look at other changes in Customer behavior.  Today we trust opinions of our friends and online networks we have built over the years.  We even trust anonymous opinions posted on review websites like Amazon and Best Buy.  As you review ratings you will see there are a few key aspects to the review.  First is the product itself.  It must meet the Customers need, and the best is if it meets an unexpected need.  If you really look at Apple over the past 10 years, it has had more to do with meeting an unexpected need in needs designed for the user.  Apple introduced the iPod and iTunes and today they are the leader is music sales.  Since that introduction they moved on to the iPhone.  The iPhone was entering markets with existing phones that were well liked, such as the Blackberry.  They did it differently, focusing on the screen and user experience.  Although many still like a real keyboard, their design and the apps, which have easy access, make it easy to forget the missing keyboard.  The next interesting thing was the iPad.  Tablet computers have been around for a while, but there was no success until the iPad.  Why?  Well unlike others, they focused on the user experience and not requiring a pointer of some sort.  They also concentrated on making it thin and easily usable by the everyday person.  Customers do want to be wowed by the user experience!

Many developers and engineers love to focus on building cool things, but they sometimes focus on their personal needs or the ‘cool’ factor and not the end user experience.  We have seen this often with websites that have every new widget under the sun, yet you can not find what you want.  These artist are then so excited by what they created, they are not always successful in listening to the feedback of others, especially Customers.

There are many other aspects to the Customer relationship that have impact.  One key aspect is trust.  Some might say marketing has impacted trust, but I think that would have been minimal.  I think larger impacts have been companies in the news.  For all the good things companies have done, the news, and what we tend to focus on is more negative.  Enron I am sure helped add to this distrust.  BP is an easy example.  Government bailouts, and a ton of bankruptcies have impact on how we feel about the business world.  I also think outrageous pay and discussions regarding lack of disclosure also impact our trust of business.  I thought about stating how trust comes from individuals, not logos, but there are companies who have had, or still do have, a strong trust quotient.

Finally since the inception of Customer Service, most companies have not fully embraced the benefits of this, or at least felt sales were more important than the experience of existing Customers.  Now this did not matter as much when Customers would tell a few friends, but now they can easily tell millions.  I have known many CEO’s and I have not known any who wanted their Customers to have a bad experience.  The challenge has been internally people have not always shared the truth regarding the experience, and service leaders were not always good at sharing the negative upward.  This is what makes the show ‘Undercover Boss’ so amusing, since part of the formula usually is to show a negative experience, with the CEO acting shocked by it.  We also relate to the show because we feel most CEO’s are not in touch with the Customers or employee experience.

Sorry for the long winded explanation, but these are the parts adding to this role.  Now I should be clear that Chief Customer Officer is not a new role, and many smart companies, mainly technology firms have had it for a few years.  Social media, and this changing Customer will force companies to have this more often.  The Chief Customer Officer Council (yes, there is one), has a great post explaining the role.  Here is a link, but I will provide a few quick quotes:

“an executive that provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.”

“The CCO must be the ultimate authority on customers, understanding customers better than any other individual in the company and perhaps better than some customers may even understand themselves.”

There are other key components such as advising the senior leadership regarding the Customer and creating a strategic plan to drive this focus through the organization.  I want to be clear, this is not necessarily the service leader, and in some cases this person may not have direct authority over the service world.  I view the role as a necessary balance to chief financial officers, general counsel and others who make high level decisions that have direct impact on the Customer experience.  Unfortunately many times decisions are made in these silos, and as the message works it way down, there is a direct, unexpected impact to the Customer.  As an example scripting came about in call centers for a variety of reasons.  The most common cited is the misguided belief that it creates a consistent experience.  Actually it may do that, but usually it is a consistent bad experience.  Actually the main reason it started was a means to limited liability and ensure regulatory compliance, and then morphed as companies outsourced service and looked to cut costs.

I have spoken to many senior leaders in varying industries.  Some see the need, while others consider it a joke.  The challenge to the business world and business leaders is they, just like each of us, work more off their own history and what they learned.  Most when asked think their Customers do have great experiences, but as we know, most Customers feel differently.  For the past few years, I have heard companies talk about improving the Customer experience.  Only time will tell if this is just talk, because change can take time.  I see this becoming the trend, but I hope to see it be more than just words to add confidence, but a true shift in the advisors to the CEO.  Some CEO’s have even added this to their title, but if they truly are looking to do this, then they must take the focus of the definition above and ensure it is reality through every Customer touchpoint.

Moving Forward! Enjoying the Ride

Posted on : 13-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Leadership, Personal

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The past few years have been very transformative for me, as they have for many of us in the social media space.  This transformation, like all others, has had many ups and downs.  I tend to always portray an upbeat, positive view on where I am and where I am headed, but I will not say it has not been tested at times.  Overall I feel very lucky to have had recognition for doing work that I truly love.  I also feel lucky to have had the opportunity to connect with so many of you.  I learned from you everyday and look to do that even further.  Recently you have seen an increase in the number of posts, and I hope to continue to that for a long time to come.

I have had a debate in my own mind regarding where I was headed in life and how I would get there.  I am not going to tell you that I have everything pegged but I do know where my focus is.  Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend and advisor regarding my career.  We spoke a lot about technology, changing business environment and key decision points that need to be made at times.  Rich will probably never read this, but it was an extremely helpful conversation.  Right now social media is the hot thing, and I strongly believe it will change businesses, especially how they deal with the Customers and also their employees.  I plan to help lead this change in many fronts!

The past year has been an amazingly successful for me, but one of the reasons I have not blogged as much is I had much on my mind.  As any reader here knows, Customer Service is my passion.  To me, social media has simply been a tool I could use to express that passion.  There have been points where I lost some of that passion due to interactions I rarely talk about.  I have had my share of negative interactions, including threats to myself and my family.  One reached the level of requiring a restraining order.  When things like that happen, you naturally question the paths you have chosen, no matter how successful they are.  If you want to understand me better, know that I tend to want to share everything (I am not good at giving surprises), so when you notice I get quiet here, there is probably things on my mind, that are not easy or appropriate to share.  It is hard for me to do that, but we all must recognize there are times that is the best approach, no matter how hard it is.

So back to my conversation with Rich.  We were discussing how people who move fast, especially driven by technology or unique knowledge tend to have career paths with ups, followed by downs.  Then when they adapt to the next big thing, they ride the roller coaster back up, at least until the next dive.  There are others who plan out their career in a manner that it keep climbing.  Usually this is much more methodical.  Part of this is knowing what the end game really is.  Where do you want to be.  For me when it comes to career, someday I may want to work on my own as a consultant, but that day is not today.  My career aspirations are simple.  I want to attain the role of Chief Customer Officer.  This is not a role that exists in many places, but as companies realize the changing world environment, they will learn that the Customer experience is the key to success in the long term.  It can not be buzz words but a complete transformation of the business approach.  It also requires new leadership in the Customer Service world to grab the seat on their own.  This has not typically been the type of leader within that world.  Times are changing, and Customer Service must move forward.

So how do I plan on moving in this direction?  First I do believe the transformation aspects of social will help lead the way in this career path.  The interest in the space provides many unique opportunities internal to an organization, but also external.  I will continue to be at the forefront of this.  This year I have been provided the opportunity to join the board of directors for the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals.  If you have any involvement with the Customer, I highly recommend joining this organization.  I learn from every member I have interacted with.  They are just as passionate about the Customer experience.  Through this involvement, I like to continue to learn, while helping to provide the leadership to help everyone of their members to take the seat at the table.  Together we are moving the Customer Service world forward!

If you have not noticed, I have much more confidence today, but it is not alway that way.  Last month I was asked about my interest in joining the board of directors for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  I can tell you my immediate response was yes (in fact in may have been hell yes).  Right after sending it, I started to look over the current board and I started to think I am not worthy.  To me the BBB is the epitome of service and integrity.  The BBB can be traced back to 1912, and during the majority of that time they were the leader in fostering honest and responsive relationships between businesses and consumers, instilling consumer confidence and contributing to a trustworthy marketplace for all.  Their history has not been perfect.  Right now the BBB is going through its own transformation.  Like many businesses, the BBB is made up of many silos around the US and Canada.  This, the changing world we live in, and other factors led to the need for the transformation.  I have confidence in everyone I met with the CBBB (the Council of Better Business Bureaus) that they are headed in the right direction.  I look at this transformation as a great opportunity for me to represent each of the Customers that the BBB serves.  In my view they serve businesses that are paying for the accreditation, non-members companies who they still work with to resolve complaints, and the general public.  So in my view, those Customers are who I represent, and I will always be happy to have your feedback (frank [at] frankeliason.com).  Together we are going to move the BBB forward.

So I am happy to report to you that I am moving forward with a clear focus and mission.  I look forward to have you with me for the ride.

EDITORS NOTE:  I am trying to write more posts, but you may not see posts over the next week due to the BBB Board Meeting and other commitments, but I promise you will be seeing many more posts in the future. Thank you!

What’s with all the Quora Hype?

Posted on : 11-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

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Have you heard of Quora?  If not you have missed a lot a hype reminiscent of Friendfeed and other social media websites that we have been excited about in the past few years.  I, like many, tried to resist the hype but eventually was pulled in.  So what did I think?  Did I see value?  I guess I saw something, or I would not be writing this today.

First let me describe Quora for those who have not had the chance to check it out.  Quora is basically a website where you can ask questions on virtually any topic and members of the community will try to answer them.  Many times you will receive multiple answers and the community will vote up the best answers or, if necessary vote answers down.  You can easily search the large quantity of questions that have already been answered.  If you are like me and like to check out specific topics, you can easily do that through the tagging system the website has in place.

So why did Quora take off in the first place?  Most likely it was due to the quality of responses, and those who took the time to answer.  One of my favorite responses came from Steve Case, former CEO of AOL.  The first question I noticed he answered was regarding the cost of all those CD’s that AOL seemed to mail out every day.  He also took the time to answer that age old question ‘did AOL purposely make it hard to cancel service.’   Another favorite was about the reason for AOL’s shift to unlimited or all you can eat pricing model.  I was very impressed by Steve’s transparency and willingness to participate.  If you have time check out some of Steve’s responses.

I have seen many other notable people taking the time to answer questions, including the CEO for Netflix, Reed Hastings, as well as many notable people from the press, business, books authors, entertainment, etc.  The list really goes on and on.

Now is Quora all that and a box of chocolates?  Not yet.  What makes it exciting right now is the quality of answers and the caliber of the participants.  As it scales this could prove difficult.  There is one thread asking best speakers in social and it just goes on an on because the best speakers are defined by the audience, the topic, the event.  I posted a few, but I did not include someone like Dan Roam.  What you have not heard of Dan?  He is incredible speaker who talks about using drawings to better engage your audience.  Through his website, http://thebackofthenapkin.com, he has changed the way videos are done.  Back to Quora.  The user experience on the website is okay, but I am sure will improve over time.  When you start to type a question in the question field at the top of the page, similar questions show.  You can easily then click on them.  I have had the page lock up at times, as well as server slow downs, and links not working.  I do not think it is easy to understand when you are following topics, or all the notifications.  With all that, I applaud them at this early iteration of the websites, and the number of slowdowns are not too bad given the huge growth that I have seen for the website.

Like many social websites, I have heard the founders talk about how they are focusing now on building the best possible website and they will think how they can best monetize it in the future.  I have always thought this approach, used by entities like Google, Facebook and Twitter is not always the best way to go.  As an example I have always felt that Twitter will have trouble monetizing for the same reason they were able to grow so fast.  Basically their open API (the reason there are many different tools available to use) made it easy for tools to be built, but without control of where your user interacts, you will struggle making money with advertising.  Promoted tweets are a nice idea, but since everyone knows they are an ad, they do not always interact.  For Quora I see a potential to make money by licensing it to businesses to use.  Let me explain.  Over the past several years I have seen activity in help forums around the net decline.  The reason this is happening is many of the same people who hung out in forums, like to also hang out in places like Twitter and Facebook.  It is difficult to hang in too many places, so many have decided to hang with their tech friends in the same space they hang with the guys they have beer with on a Saturday night.  The other trouble is forums are typically restricted to one website.  So if you had trouble with your internet service provider, but the trouble could be with your router or the model computer you use, the answer may be in the computer manufacturers forum, instead fo the cable provider.  I have said for years that forum providers, like Lithium and Jive should find ways to better connect these conversation, which I think they are working on.  At the same time, if I used a help forum for business 2 Consumer, I would already be in conversations with Quora, and I would possibly consider replacing my forum with this updated answer site.  I think it would be much more Consumer friendly.  I also think Quora could quickly be on the path to making money.  Do not believe me?  Check out this bank website (they are not in operation yet) and the link (you have to scroll all the way down) to their companies Quora page.  I doubt they are paying anything for that, but obviously there is potential.  I also see great potential for companies to take a Twelpforce (BestBuy has people helping people on Twitter with products they sell) type method to start helping people with topics important to their business.  It is key to know that self advertisement is not permitted and at this time Quora does not have a means for business to participate.  I think this was shortsighted, but they want to avoid spam and make this about person helping person.  I think they should consider an option for authorized people from businesses.

The key for Quora is to continue to improve the user experience, and once the newness factor wears off, they need to make sure they do not go down the path of other answers websites, and have spam take over the answers.  The moderation now is working well but it must work the same as people try to find means to circumvent the system.  I also worry about attention span.  How many places can you hang out?  I find it tough enough to blog, tweet, Facebook and do my normal offline tasks.  Can I handle another place?  Twitter and Facebook will take the attention of time for many, but Quora is better than also visiting 3 or 4 forums websites, like I do today.  I do wonder if Quora and Twitter found a way to link up, how powerful they could become, but that is a conversation for the future.  I do think Quora will be a game changer as they mature their business and find the core community that will help them win.  I for one will be cheering them on.

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Good Service?

Posted on : 10-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Retailing

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The economy has not been the greatest and it has caused us all to cut back. In some cases buying store brand or buying bulk items to save a few dollars. I have done the same, but a few things caused me to start thinking about cost verses service. There is always a balance for companies and individuals as they determine the best things for those needs.

Certain areas I have alway cut costs. One of those areas to me has always been food shopping. On the higher end, I love shopping at Wegmans for their food selection, bakery, prepared foods and my favorite is their recipes. I have always found I spend more when I go there, but overall I love the experience. To save a few dollars I do like to shop at Giant Foods in PA. I have found they typically have the lowest prices. There is a difference when I shop at each place. I do not expect wow service at Giant (although many times I feel I get it). I do expect that service at Wegmans, and virtually always receive it.

So now you know a little about my shopping habits, I have to tell you about a new supermarket that I went to this week. The supermarket is called Bottom Dollar. As you can judge from the name it is about the lowest price. I knew before going there that selection would not be huge because it is located in a much smaller building than the supermarkets in my area. The location was probably a supermarket that was closed in the early 1990′s or earlier. They advertise brand name products at the lowest possible price. I went there Friday night to pick up a few things, but when I walked in I decided to do a full amount of shopping. I grabbed my cart and entered the store. The first thing I noticed was the small produce section, which was in a refrigerated area. The produce was in boxes and all looked very fresh. There was not a huge selection, but the basics were all there. I grabbed a few things and continued my way around the store. I noticed quickly that the prices were low. They were not the lowest prices I have seen if I compared to sale prices, but much less than regular prices at other places. As an example Pepsi products were $2.88 for a 12 pack. Other places I have seen regular price $3.99 or $4.99 but sale prices as low as $2.50. Lean Cuisines were also similar price. I think they were $2.48 compared to others at $3.99 regular price with sale prices as low as $2. To give you an example of selection, they had maybe 10 different types of Lean Cuisines instead of the large quantity I find at Wegmans or Giant. They did not have a deli or bakery but they did have some of these items that were prepackaged. I was a little disappointed at the lack of deli, since I was planning on buying cheese, and I usually do not like some of the processed cheeses. The lack of bakery actually helped save me money since that to me is usually an add on purchase because ‘it looked good.’ Wegmans bakery always gets me on the add on’s.

Overall I had a full cart load of stuff. Not bad since I was only going for 3 items. I went up to the cashier and started to unload my cart. I immediately noticed the cashier had another cart at the other end of the register. I quickly noticed the cashier was taking all these little items I purchased and placing them in the other cart, just like I was at a warehouse club with very big items. Unfortunately I did not have big items. I had a whole cart load of small items. I also did not bring any of the bags we own from other supermarkets, so I was not sure how I would carry the items into my home. I quickly looked around and found a spot where they had bags for sale. I ran over, grabbed 5 and gave them to the cashier. The cashier immediately rang in the bags and placed them in the cart then proceeded to ring up all the remaining items, piling them on top of the just purchased bags. No effort was made to place any of the items in a bag. This meant at 9:00 PM on a cold night, I was out by my car trying to bag all these little items of food. This took a while and due to the cold it was not done with as much care as I would like. Overall I spent $98, which probably was a savings of $10-$12 compared to other supermarkets. This caused me to think about it and for me I decided it was not worth the saving compared to my time and the better selection. I am sure others will love it and it will be right for their needs. So I know I am willing to pay a premium of 10-15% for better service at a supermarket. Are you willing to pay a premium for service? If so, how much?

Now a funny ending to my supermarket situation. In my rush to fill the bags and load the cars, I must not have loaded the 12 packs of soda in the best way. When I got home and opened the hatch to my Prius, my 2 12-packs of soda fell out of the back of the car bursting on my driveway.

There is always a cost and value debate we always make when we purchase products. I know I prefer Apple computers compared to other brands. The reason is I have always had amazing service when I needed it, and the product I have had from Apple have lasted a long time, compared to similar machines with other operating systems. I still have a Mac that is close to 10 years old and runs as well as it did when I first bought it. During that time I have had a number on non-Apple computers that have not lasted at all. At the same time I know I pay a premium for the computer. It is probably at least 20%, but in my view and for my needs, I am willing to pay for it because I know they will last. I also know that if I do need service, the Apple store team is empowered and very willing to create a great experience. What items are you willing to pay a premium for? What items do you look to save and expect less service?

Enough is Enough: Observations from a Horrific Day

Posted on : 09-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Politics, Social Media

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Over the past 15 years it seems to me that the political spectrum and debate has become more and more intense.  During that time there has been finger pointing on both sides blaming the other.  If one good thing can come out of the event in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, let it be a coming together of everyone.  I tend not to be very politically driven, and in fact usually do not like politicians from either side of the aisle.  The reason I feel this way is I consider myself to be similar to most individuals.  I agree with certain points from each political party.  I also disagree with points from both sides.  I have always been frustrated that politicians seem to be more motivated for themselves, followed by their political party, with the last consideration being their own constituents.

I do believe that social media will be discussed a lot in the aftermath of this event.  We have already heard a lot about the Myspace and You Tube accounts maintained by the disturbed individual who committed this horrid act.  We have also seen a lot of discussion regarding Sarah Palin’s PAC and the use of gun scope on Representative Giffords and many others.  Let me be clear, unlike the headline from the NY Daily News regarding Sarah Palin having blood on her hands, I believe this was a disturbed individual and this action was not taken because of stupid graphics or dumb wording for tweets.  We can easily find similar stupidity regarding other historic events from every side of the political spectrum.  There is a key learning for all of us, and that is that our words and actions are always being reviewed and it is important to keep these possibilities in mind.  What is the message you want people to take and how will history review them?

If we really look at all the events over the past 15 years, we can easily see how both sides of the political spectrum have created this environment that is us vs them.  I do not care if you are the us or the them.  If you are blaming one side, you better learn the other side is just as much at fault.  We need to stop focusing on the negative of others, and start focusing on what we can accomplish together.  For the politicians, I beg you to start showing yourselves in a manner that reflects the positives you can contribute to your constituents.  For those currently in office stop focusing on you or your party and focus on the needs of those you serve.  Do not let events from yesterday stop you from meeting with local citizens.  In fact do it for Gabby and show that unstable individuals are not going to stop you from this.  That shows courage.

During the course of events yesterday, social media played a different role, and one that I hope to continue to see in regard to political discussions.  Yesterday we were unified in our disgust at this event.  I watched discussions all day from people on all sides commenting about the event.  For the most part the discussions were centered on the horrific nature of the event, others who were hurt or killed, and the good Representative Giffords brought to her role.   Like many people, I did not know or hear of Gabby Giffords until yesterday, but I would guess that she would not want us to focus on the political sides, but instead focus on how we can start to come together.  This should not be done as Democrats and Republicans but as Americans.

Now that events have settled in, people are looking to answer why, and many are focusing on political divisiveness to answer this.  This action was not due to Sarah Palin or comments by Jesse Kelly (opponent of Rep. Giffords during past election); it was a crazy individual or individuals.  Lets focus on how we can make things better, find ways to get people like this the help they need before lives are lost and lets be horrified by all acts of violence.  My prayers are with all those involved in this incident.

UPDATE: President Obama is calling for a moment of silence tomorrow at 11:00 AM.  Let’s include more than just our mouths, but also texting, Twitter, email, Facebook, etc.  Maybe we can use it to reflect on how each of us can have a positive impact on the world.

Making Money During the Gold Rush

Posted on : 08-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

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This week I have had the gold rush on my mind a lot, and for a variety of reasons it just will not leave, so it calls for a blog post.  I do get worried that we are looking at a bubble ready to burst.  When you look at markets you usually know when it will turn based on what people are talking about.  When everyone was talking about house flipping (all those shows came out on the topic) you knew the housing bubble was set to burst.  When everyone is talking about putting money into stocks, you just know the market will collapse.  When everyone is scared the market will go down to a 1000 on the Dow, you know it is time to buy, just like when people were talking about Dow 30,000 I knew it was time to go the other direction.  Today I am seeing the same with social media!  Is social media euphoria going to cause a collapse?

First I do not think social media is going anywhere.  During my last post I did make a few predictions for the coming year that may be a little contrarian.  I do think we will see usage go down as people pull back to determine how much of their life they want public.  More important than that, and where I think the social bubble will burst is regarding the marketing excitement I have seen.  You would not believe the amount of companies are looking to hire people to lead them to the gold in social media.  I think this is the bubble that is set to burst.  As marketers do not make the money they anticipate, they inevitably will have their own bubble burst.

I have been contacted a lot recently by companies with new ways to market to ‘influencers’ and get this gold of new Customers.  Each one seems to have the same theme talking about how they have proprietary software that has deep analytics that will get this message to the right people, and they guarantee they will act.  I have no doubt that companies are wasting a lot of money buying these maps to the gold, or hiring agencies that promise the same performance.  When the returns are just not there, marketers will be very upset and swear off social media.  I think that is the wrong approach, but a more holistic approach to the business could prove successful.

The trouble is social media is different, especially when you compare to other broadcast mediums like TV and print.  In the other mediums you had the Customer, or potential Customer undivided attention, but on the web, especially in social websites, the attention goes to so many other things, such as the people they are interacting with.  If people believe they are being sold too, or others were paid for their influence, it is very easy thing to turn off.  I know I do.

As part of this we have also seen influence model websites come about like Klout, Twitalyzer, and Peerindex.  Each of the links I provided go directly to my profile on those websites.  I also have seen some interesting discussion regarding these websites on Quora (more to come on this website later next week).  I would recommend reading this post by @ShelIsrael ‘Twitalyzer: How Does it Measure Up.’ and Matt Creamer’s Ad Age post ‘Your Followers are No Measure of Your Influence.’  My overall take on these analytics sites is they are interesting and can add a little fun, but they will never truly understand the human impact.  I do fear they will add into the inaccurate marketers belief of targeting influencers, but they will learn over time that all their Customers are influencers.  The trouble I have always had with these type of measures is there are some people, who walk into a room, say a few words and they change everything.  The same type of people are in spaces like Twitter and have great influence even when they are quiet.  In the past I have also talked about the influence a certain video about a sleepy technician had (and still does) on a brand I used to work for.  No tool would be able to predict influence like that.

What started me down this path were 3 emails and a call I received over the past week regarding these new social media influencer tools.  The one email was internal one that I was cc’ed on talking about this as the future.  I did something I typically strive not to, but I replied to all with this simple statement:

‘During the Gold Rush the people who made the most money sold the maps to the gold.  Keep this in mind.’

If you want to make money in this gold rush, jump in and sell the maps.  For me, I believe in the long term, and I will focus on the Customer experience which I think will deliver greater gold.