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A Tale of Expectations

Posted on : 16-12-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media

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A tweet says so much yet may not provide clarity. A few days ago I tweeted about two experiences over the past week with hotels. The more I think about the tweet the more I realize it is a tale of expectations. We tend to tweet or post to Facebook items we are passionate about or the extremes of our own expectations. This is the story of both extremes of my expectations.

When it comes to service I typically have very high standards and I am frustrated often by poor Customer handling. At the same time I have come to expect poor service. It is a sad state of affairs for the service industry. We were attending a wedding at a resort in Atlantic Beach, Florida (near Jacksonville). I had low expectations for the hotel. I knew it would be nice based on the Internet pictures, but I never expected to be wow’ed by the experience. I can count on one hand how often I was wow’ed by a hotel. Anyway the One Ocean Resort was not only able to wow me, they have moved to the top of my list for hotels. It all started upon arrival. We decided to drive down from New Jersey. The plan was a few days for the wedding and a few days in Disney prior to driving back. Due to a police incident in Virginia, we were stuck on the highway from 11:00 PM until after 2:00 AM. At that point stopping at a hotel seemed a waste, so we drove straight through, arriving at the resort around noon or 1:00 PM. We pulled up to valet, introduced ourselves to the attendant, and let him know we first wanted to see if the room was ready before off loading. He turned to us and said “Mr. Eliason, not only is your room ready, I have your key right here. There is no need to check in, let me take your bags right up”. It was a tremendous start. The hotel room had a beautiful view of the ocean and loaded with snacks to meet any tastes. The hotel, prior to arrival, also emailed asking snack and drink preferences. The room was loaded with our selections. What a great touch. During our two night stay we were greeted by name from many of the staff members. The wedding was beautiful and a brunch we threw for the wedding guests was perfect. I loved One Ocean!

After the wedding we took the few hour ride to Orlando to visit Mickey and all the Princesses. This was my third trip to Disney and the other two were magical, so I had very high expectations. This time, using credit card points, we were staying at the Grand Floridian. It was just going to be one night, so why not. During the few hour drive and after reviewing the weather, we decided to extend our stay 1 night, if the hotel had availability. So we arrived at the hotel. The guard was exceptional directing us to the front of the hotel to leave our bags before taking the car to self park. The bellhop was really nice as I have come to expect from cast members. We then drove to self park, which was full. We then found ourselves in cast member parking, which did not seem right, so we drove back and did valet. As we went past the security guard again he did let us know we could have parked in cast member parking but I decided to valet instead. Finally made my way to check in. Again another nice gentleman greeted me. I asked about extending the stay. He checked me in then had to call the reservation desk to see if they could extend (why he could not do it seemed disjointed to me). He then informed me that the reservation was not done through Disney but he could add a night at a different rate. I was fine with that. That night we attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was a magical, although wet experience. It was great being in Magic Kingdom with less of a crowd. The next day I got up and the first thing I did was work with the concierge for the girls to attend a dinner with Cinderella. I then went back to the check in desk because I realized our car pass had the incorrect date. The woman at the desk was confused by the reservation and was telling me it was not right. She made some changes and said that should fix it. It was at this point I started to expect problems ahead. Anyway it was time to head to Animal Kingdom to start the day. As soon as we arrived at Animal Kingdom I made a purchase at the gift shop (waterproof bag after the wet evening before) and charged it to the room. We then went in the park. I love Animal Kingdom, especially for the character access. After meeting a few characters we went to make another purchase. This time charging to the room was not going to happen. Our card was deactivated. I called the number on the card. The first person was very nice and listened carefully, she then had to transfer me to the hotels front desk. The next person seemed confused and had to connect me with someone in the back office. I am not sure what she did, but I found myself back in the queue and about 20 minutes later back at the front desk. I hate loops! Needless to say the new person had no clue, so I reiterated the story. Instead of reactivating the cards, she issued new keys that they would keep at the front desk. If I wanted to make any purchases, I just had to tell the person to key in the code at the bottom of the key and change the last two digits to 07. I would guess they can not reactivate existing keys. There system, to avoid risk, creates trouble for the Customer. Not uncommon but very frustrating. When we finally got back to the hotel, shortly before the scheduled dinner, I went to the front desk to pick up the keys, again explaining my frustration with the experience. Instead of getting the keys already cut, they printed new ones and handed them to me. I provided my wife her key and suggested she shop and I would take the kids back to the room. The hotel is spread over multiple buildings, so heading to your room can take time, especially with 2 girls. I finally made it there and you probably already guessed, the key did not work. This most likely meant my wife could not make purchases or get in the room if she beats me back. I made my way with the girls back to the front desk. I again explain the situation and my frustration. He seemed to think it was about charging back to the room an hands me back the key and says now you can charge. I said great, of course my goal now is getting into my room. He then reviewed a few things and said he had to go back and check with his manager. He then came back and printed another key and promised that one would work. All the other keys were now useless. I was fine by that. I was surprised that if he went back and relayed the story to the manager, I would have expected then to come out and apologize for the trouble, but none of that happened. Well the key did work, the bill seemed correct and the rest of the trip was as magical as I expect from Disney. I have seen similar key trouble in many hotels, but I had higher expectations for Disney, especially the Grand Floridian. I did not see the empathy from the staff as I would have expected. I loved the trip to Florida and I know I will be back to Disney but maybe next time my expectations will not be as grand.

Destroying A Brand in a Social World

Posted on : 15-12-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Marketing, Social Media



Much Discussion has been made about how successful companies can market themselves and their products through social media. I personally wonder if anyone truly cares about hearing brands do this, but that is a post for another day. I do know that companies can destroy their brand quickly in this space and I thought it would be fun to look at different ways this happens.

The first thing to recognize is that the brand image is owned by others and not the PR department or marketing. Both of these departments are important but they are no longer in the driver’s seat for brand image. I wonder if they ever were? Again, probably a post for another day. I am not sure things have changed in this regard but perception has. The masses, whoever they may be control it. In reviewing recoveries by brands who have had trouble, we can still determine how a brand can be destroyed in social media.

Many larger brands have had trouble in their history, even before social media became a large part of communications. McDonalds and Starbucks had difficulties at one point in their life cycle and both recovered nicely. Both had similar issues, they had inconsistent Customer experiences at different locations. They also strayed far from their core products. Both recovered in similar ways by working to create Customer experiences that were consistent from location to location. This will always be trouble for franchise type organizations or decentralized business model because the brand image is not as much in the companies control. In recovering they first outlined who they are and what they strive to be. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz returned as CEO. One of the first things he did was bring back the smell of coffee. Very basic but key to a consistent experience. McDonalds focus on cleanliness of locations and consistent food. How consistent is your brand? Are you doing what you are good at or are you trying to be too many different things to various constituents?

Your brand is also owned by your employees. Since there has been a long standing analogy of social media as a cocktail party, what story would your own employees tell at a cocktail party? Would they say what a great place your company is or would they bitch about their job? Worse yet, would they say nothing? Apathy is much worse than negative commentary. At least negative commentary means they want change or improvement but if they say nothing, they do not care at all. Employees have great power over the brand and could help build it further. There are also many examples of employees hurting brands, such as the Domino’s video from years ago. Domino’s did a great job recovery from that event but I am sure it fundamentally changed them.

Customers have the greatest power they ever have. Companies dream of Customers taking their message to others, but as a Consumer how often do you do that? I have done it for Apple and Samsung products as well as a few service brands that wow’ed me, but more often than not, I am more negative due to experiences that did not meet my expectations. Brands may have dreams, but the fact is people will not talk about your brand unless you give them strong reason to. Do you create wow experiences? If not, do not expect people to share your message. Also if you are not a well liked, but create something cool, they may share it with commentary such as ‘this is cool even if I do not like XYZ company.’ This happens because they are not playing to you, but instead they are playing to their crowd. They do not want to get blasted by their own friends for supporting a brand that others do not like.

You win or lose in this social world through the Customer and employee experience. Know what your brand is about and consistently deliver on that.

You’ve Got Mail! How Fast Does Your Business Evolve?

Posted on : 12-10-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Leadership

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‘You’ve Got Mail,’ a term we all loved to hear in the mid 90’s but when was the last time you heard it?  Actually for me it was about a month or two ago.  Do you remember the Tom Hank’s, Meg Ryan movie of the same name?  Yes, I watched it.  That movie started me thinking about the evolution of business.  Although AOL still exists it is a vastly different, smaller company today.  Last week I received an email from Barnes & Noble regarding their purchase of the Customer list from Borders.  Here is an image of the email:

I loved the human tone of the email, particularly this quote from Barnes & Noble CEO, William Lynch:

“First of all let me say Barnes & Noble uniquely appreciates the importance bookstores play within local communities, and we’re very sorry your Borders store closed.”

This brings me back to the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail.’  If you remember the movie, the character played by Meg Ryan owned a small book shop called ‘The Shop Around the Corner.”  Tom Hank’s character, along with his family, controlled the Fox Book Superstore, moving in around the corner.  Fox Books would remind you of any Barnes and Noble or Borders location.  It was very open, featuring a wide range of books, other media, and, of course, the all important coffee bar.  Although the two characters fell in love, ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ does go out of business.  The model changed and the little shop was not able to change with the times.  Now today we see the model changing again.  First Amazon made a strong competitor with their internet book business.  They further pushed the model with the introduction of the well loved Kindle.   The iPad and Apple furthered this evolution, as did Google and their Android devices.

Business models are changing all the time, and the most nimble businesses can bring success to this.  ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ and Borders may not have been able to make it, but companies like Barnes and Noble are trying.  Amazon has proven to be a disrupter to the typical business model.  How nimble is your business?  Do you see change before it is too late?

It is interesting, when taken into context of yesterday’s Netflix post.  Evolution is imperative but timing can be very difficult.

January 24 Celebrates the Original Social Customer Advocates

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

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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?

The Customer, not the Company Defines How Products are Used

Posted on : 03-02-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Marketing


I have a lot of respect for Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi.  She has done a lot to help the brand and grow the business of Pepsi.  The video above was on CNBC the other day.  It was a feel good story of the introduction of the Pepsi Refresh Project.  This is a social giving initiative in which Pepsi is putting up $20 million dollars and allowing everyone to vote on which initiatives will receive a cut of the money.  It is a great idea and I am sure the money will assist many charities in need.  I know I plan to vote each month.  But the interview took an interesting turn that I think is a learning experience for many of us.  Here is what happened:

At 2:00 minutes the CNBC host, Mark Haines asks if Pepsi will always be in second place to Coke.  Ms. Nooyi gives a good response regarding the diverse nature of the Pepsi brand, including Frito Lay, Quaker Oats, Gatorade, Tropicana, etc.  This leads to a conversation about the recent rebranding of Gatorade, basically moving back to what it was founded on, a sports drink.  This is where it gets interesting to me.  She then points out that Gatorade is a drink for the “athlete to be used in active thirst.”  She  states for a period of time people defined active thirst as sitting on the couch watching TV because they loved the taste of Gatorade.  She went on to explain that when the economy took the down turn, those casual drinkers could not afford the brand.  After stating this she said in an emphatic way, ‘Thank God.”  They are now taking Gatorade back to the core user and innovating the product for the active user.  Mark Haines goes on to ask if they are going to post guards to prevent couch potatoes from buying the brand.  Ms. Nooyi responded that couch potatoes are welcome to buy the brand provided they get out and exercise, then they can have the drink.

Now I wish I was more active, but I tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, working or watching the kids.  I am sorry Ms. Nooyi would not welcome me as a Customer.  I was a good one, especially with the large powdered Gatorade I have in my pantry (I wonder if Ms. Nooyi would refund the cost since she does not want me to have it?)  My original point for this post was to show how easy it is for someone to accidentally say something that could upset long time Customers.  I have been a long time drinker of Gatorade, in what seems like a galaxy far far away, I played tennis with my best friend Jason.  After a few matches I would really enjoy a large Gatorade (Jason, we should do that again in the spring!).  But I think there is a larger point in that the Customer is really the one who defines that brand, not marketing research, CEO or anyone else.  If a Customer likes the product, the company should just be grateful to have them.

I am sorry Ms. Nooyi if you do not want me to be a Customer of Gatorade.  Actually I am sure she does, and this was more poor word choice, but you can see how that impression can be created.

From the Pantry

From the Pantry

2010: Year of Trust Agents? Twitter Decline? What Else?

Posted on : 30-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Social Media


Many of you do not know, but this year I started to write a book titled “A Social Media Fairy Tale.”  Of course I have not been back to writing for a number of months now, but that is because it is much harder than I ever thought, plus it is very weird to write about yourself.  The reason for the book is hopefully to help people learn about social media, and different ways to use the space.  I started in social media in 2000 with sharing my daughter Gia’s website when she was born prematurely.  I then used the website to educate people about Cystic Fibrosis, something Gia was diagnosed with early in life.  When she started her fight with cancer, we used the website to educate and follow her progress.  When Lily was born I added our family website, which Robyn joined in 2008.

I have always been an advocate for Customers, and I continued to do that when I joined Comcast in September, 2007.  I have always done this in a private manner and I planned the same at Comcast.  I never anticipated being in a public role that would not only change Comcast, but also change the way many companies think of social media and Customer Service.  If I would have made predictions at the end of 2008, I would have stated we would see many new companies enter social media, and service would be a key role.  We did see this, but not as much as I thought would happen.  I would have also predicted that I would have not been as public but my team would continue to see success.  This would not have been as accurate, since I have spoken at many events and continue to strive to change Customer Service, not only at Comcast but throughout the industry.  2009 had an amazing start with the Business Week story “Comcast Twitter Man.”  This is an article I am very proud of, but the highlights to me for 2009 were:

  1. The opportunity to continue to have conversations with Customers within social media and in person
  2. Success for my team as they have really taken the reigns within social media
  3. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast stating that Twitter has changed the culture of Comcast
  4. Watching competitors trying to replicate the success my team has had in social media
  5. Completing a leadership program at Comcast in which only 45 people (out of close to 100,000 employees) are chosen for each year
  6. Finally taking a vacation with the family, even if it turned into the Griswold Disney Vacation

So now we look forward to 2010.  As we have seen every year, predictions for the year ahead are everywhere, and I will try the same.  I can guarantee that I have zero psychic abilities.  In fact I have no predictions regarding my life, but that is simply because I am not sure I could have predicted any events over the past 10 years.  I just hope 2010 is another good year for family and friends.  So here is what I see in 2010:

  • Customer Service – As the economy starts to improve, companies will strive to improve the experience for Customers.  The cost benefit will be retaining Customers.  The poor economy has taught companies that it is far cheaper to get it right the first time.  You will start to see Customer Service being the new marketing!
  • Economy – The economy will continue to improve over the first half of 2010, but the second half improvements will slow and may even take a few steps back.  This will be due to employee turn over that will impact production, as well as steps taken to help improve the economy will be pulled back and this will show the improvements are fragile, and the strain will cause some to break.  One of the factors will be yet another bubble bursting, specifically gold which will scare many.
  • Employees and Jobs – Hiring will start to pick up in the next 6 months.  This will cause pain for many companies where employees did not feel valued during this downturn.  Instead of hiring out of work people, there will be many that move from one company to another.  Like service, not every company has seen the asset that employees really are.  The employees will return this favor by leaving which will cause production decreases, increased labor costs and ultimately the trouble in the economy for the second half of the year.  There is a good note!  This will show companies the cost benefit of striving to be more employee centric.  I actually believe it may be the beginning stage of long term employment with companies and a new team environment that will lead businesses for a long time to come.
  • Social Media – I think video will continue to rise.  People will grow a little bit tired of Facebook but they will still use the space as a primary connection to friends and family.  I believe Twitter will see activity take a steady decline over the first 6 months.  In my opinion this is due to the amount of spam, which is causing frustration to users and the benefits early adopters saw, are not easily noted by new users.  Twitter will finally work to make changes, but I predict it will be later half of the year before dramatic change.  Unfortunately if it takes that long, many of the users will have already left.  This will have added importance as the company looks for more funding, but due to the declines there will be a reluctance, causing the need to sell Twitter to a third party (maybe a Google, or someone like that).  Any sale will not be at dollar amounts seen in the past for similar transactions.  This will cause business fundamentals, and profits to be important for future venture capital funding.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook will have success by going public, but the stock market returns may not be as exciting as people think.  The big news for social media will be the spread within the workplace and the support business leaders provide this initiative.
  • The Year of Trust Agents – We started to see Trust Agents, especially via Twitter but the coming year will be the year of the Trust Agent.  This may surprise you, but I predict this will not be on Twitter or even Facebook, at least at first.  Trust Agents will rise inside businesses as new social media tools are implemented.  This will also be a surprise to business leaders, and it will put a new face on the corporate leader.  Later in the year they will spread from these internal social networks to be in places like Facebook.

Overall I think 2010 will be better than 2009, mainly due to the light at the end of the tunnel for economy and there will be less strain between employers and employees.  Social media will continue to grow, but at a much slower pace.  The biggest growth will be within internal networks, but that will help people learn to use the space in a more effective manner.  One final prediction:  I still will not finish the book!

Isn’t it fun to pull things out of a hat and talk like they will be reality?  Anyway, thank you again for a great 2009, and I want to wish all of you a happy New Year!  I hope that 2010 brings great success personally and in your business life!

For the Future of Retailing Look to the Past

Posted on : 28-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Retailing

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This weekend I watched Biography of Home Depot on CNBC. It was a fascinating look at a company and the founders that created a new concept that would become a category killer in the home improvement industry. What struck me was not the success of the brand, but really the founders that created the concept. The TV special concentrated on Bernie Marcus, Arthur Blank, Pat Farrah, and investment banker Ken Langone. The story goes like this:

Bernie Marcus was born in Newark, New Jersey  who worked with his father to pay for college.  He received a degree in pharmaceutical studies.  He later worked in a pharmacy but found his true love to be in the store with the Customers (this is why I really connected to the Bernie).  Art Blank grew up in Flushing, New York and graduated from Babson college

Well once there was a retailer named Handy Dan, where Bernie Marcus was eventually hired as a senior executive.  Art Blank worked at the same retailer just outside of college, working his way up through the ranks.  Bernie promoted Art to his staff .  Later, after Daylin corporation, the owner of Handy Dan, filed for bankruptcy, Bernie and Art fought to maintain the success for Handy Dan.  They continued to grow the company, but a dislike grew between Bernie and Sandy Sigoloff, the CEO for Daylin.  One day Sandy brought Bernie into a conference room with many suits and a stenographer.  This was the end for Bernie, Art, and Ron Brill (the first Home Depot employee).  There were many accusations, but I think it is safe to say false ones.  Anyway, I am not judging that.  After this Bernie started making phone calls to contacts he made, one of them being Ken Langone.  Ken convinced him this was the best thing to happen and he should follow his dreams.  They found a strong merchandiser named Pat Farrah, and the group set their sights on Atlanta.  That is where Home Depot was born.

Many of you may not know, but my background when I was younger was in retail management.  I have always had love affair with the direct Customer contact environment that retailing has.  I have long watched what worked, and what was a failure.  In my lifetime I have seen this changing environment, great management choices, very poor ones and many going out of business.  I remember working in the home improvement business when Home Depot was entering the area I live.  You could easily see why it was a category killer.  The same was true regarding the expansion of Walmart.  I have seen many that simply could not keep up.  Of course through this expansion other companies built themselves up as strong competitors to both Walmart and Home Depot.  I also think the time will come where another company changes the game and places these companies at risk.  But who and how?

Many have said the future of retailing is Amazon.  I agree Amazon has been a killer of many products, especially books and DVD’s, but I think for many other products people want more.  This post was inspired by the Home Depot founders, but I know I will not have my Ken Langone to help secure the large amount of financing necessary to recreate the retail landscape, so I thought it might be fun to throw it out here.  As I have watched retailing for years, I know there are certain keys to success.  The first key is amazing Customer Service, which I am not too sure many retailers currently do well.  Second is convenience, which the web has made much easier.  Third is atmosphere, which some retailers do very well  by reducing clutter and making it easy to shop, but most fail here too.  Fourth is a strong dedicated team that understand the products and how best to utilize them.  The original Home Depot did all of these well, but as time went on some of these things drifted away for them.

So what can we learn from the past? Well the internet boom for online retailers is not as new as you think.  We have seen this before, but instead of the net, it was the catalog.  The internet may have killed off the paper catalog but it still created the same category, just instead of dominance by Sears or J.C. Penny, the dominating force is Amazon.  During the catalog boom, a new style of retailing emerged with names like Best, Basco, Service Merchandise and many others.  They were known as Catalog Showrooms.  In these stores you could see the merchandise, and if you wanted to buy you would fill out a slip (seems silly today) and it would magically come through the belt.  This allowed for Customers to touch and feel the merchandise prior to buying.  A key for many purchasing items, especially higher end merchandise.  I can easily make the case that Circuity City was also a catalog showroom, just without much of a catalog.  The original, successful Circuity City was a showroom with various merchandise with excellent sales people to help you out.  Customer Service was the name of their game and they did this very well in the early days.  Later, as they faltered in other areas, Circuit City also did this concept well with their web business and picking up your order within 30 minutes.  Unfortunately for Circuity City, and many of these other retailers they tried to shift there model to something they were not.  I saw the end when Circuit City left the appliance business and tried to build a self service area in their stores for software and other computer products.  This, just like similar changes made at other retailers, caused them to alienate employees and their own Customer base.  Questioning what you are as a business will alway set you up for failure.  As these companies made changes to their model, instead of setting themselves up for a boom during the early years of the internet retailing, they simply went bust.  Many of their names may still be around, but they were purchased by companies that simply wanted to build websites using the name, nothing more.

So what would the future of retailing look like?  The concept would not be very different than what you see at Amazon.com for the web.  The only major differences would be the showrooms.  These would be placed at strategic population centers, similar to the placement of Ikea stores.  These centers would have showrooms to play with the merchandise, high tech transmitters for purchasing and service personnel to truly help those that want it, when they wanted it.  While in the store you would have full access to reviews of Customers from the website, as well as competitive information.  These centers would have easy pick up of merchandise for those that order over the web and would like quick gratification.  Merchandise ordered in the store would be delivered in the same manner.  These facilities would also serve as the mail distribution centers for items purchased on the net to be shipped.  To maintain lower shipping costs, items would ship from the nearest facility to the Customer.   A key learning from successful online retailers, like Zappos, they must offer an easy to understand and fair return policy.  Thanks to companies like Amazon, there is amazing technology for picking merchandise in a fast and efficient manner.  This structure also helps reduce shortages and theft, creating a better retail investemnt.  The showroom would be a clean, very friendly place to browse.  It would not have the typical brick and mortar retailer mentality of ‘pile it high and let it fly.’  This would be a place Customers would love to shop.  Sales people when requested, but not the car shopping experience of running over the moment the prospective Customer is in your sight.

This is not a revolutionary idea, in fact you do not need to look far to find similar concepts.  The Apple Stores have revolutionized retailing for Apple products.  Apple had a problem, no retailer sold their merchandise well.  They also did not wield the power to change the model at existing retailers, so they went one step further, they build a model that would work.  They utilize high tech equipment to make the experience great for everyone that visits, yet they do not try to oversell the Customer.  You know if you visit, help is there if you need it, but if you just want to play with the computers you can do that.  Of course I know when I play with the latest and greatest Macs, I almost always want to leave with one.

For those that believe internet shopping is the future, I agree, but it is only part of the equation.  Many brick and mortar retailers have tried to incorporate web sales into their existing business , but, in my opinion, not very successfully.  Best Buy offers it, but someone has to go out on the floor to try to pick the items.  Walmart will ship items to the store, but you have to wait for them to get there.

Retailing is not very difficult, as the founders for Home Depot proved.  Find out what people want, and deliver it in the way they would like to receive it.  Retailing is just like social media for business, there is no reason to over think it.

It is time for someone to build the new way of shopping from the ground up, but, even before looking at the present, review what you can learn from the history of retailers long gone!

Business Has Always Been About Personal Connections!

Posted on : 13-11-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media


So I just got home from the New Tee Vee Live conference in San Francisco.  I had a great time meeting friends that I have spoken with many times via Twitter.  This was not my typical conference, since normally I have the opportunity to go to conferences more centered on social media or Customer service.  I did not have the opportunity to stay in San Francisco long (just about 30 hours), but even though it was quick I did leave with a reinvigorated spirit and deeper friendships.  One of those friendships is with Om Malik, who I found to be simply a nice guy.  It is funny, because I have seen the fear he can instill in so many people based on his frank and honest writing style.  Instead I found a honest, quiet man that is open to laughing at himself.

I enjoyed the dinner the evening before the event.   At dinners like this there is always a few speeches and toasts, this was no different.   When Om Malik got up he thanked many that contribute to the success at night.  Among those that he acknowledged were many members from Comcast, my employer and the main sponsor for the event.  In his acknowledgement he went a step further to discuss the great connections he was making with the Comcast team members that were there.  I am not sure what he was expecting, but you can tell there was a genuine like on both sides.  This was not a surprise, because I know I work with a lot of great people.  I was not surprised at the public acknowledgements; let’s face it, that is the nature of these type of events.  What did surprise me was the deeper personal conversations I had with Om and members of his team at Gigaom.com.   These included advice and honest conversations that were very touching.  This was the personal connection that really mattered.

While I was at the event , CBS News played a piece based on an interview we did months ago (A copy of the story is below this post).  The piece was regarding the trouble companies have allowing there employees to use social media while at work.  To me, as I pointed out in my last post, it is similar to the debate I am sure happened when phones came into the office setting and I know the same exact debate happened when employees were provided access to email.  One of my friends, Beth Harte, likes to share a picture of a golfer when she discusses social media with senior executives.  She is making the point that social media is the new golf outing to attract clients.  I agree in many ways.  Of course social media is a little cheaper.  For those who point out that social media has a negative impact on productivity, I would ask how long a status update takes on Facebook?  How about 140 characters on Twitter?  Another question I would ask companies is if they expect their employees to answer their blackberry during off hours?  I think that is why they provide them in the first place, so why can’t a little bit of home be brought to the office?  Seems to me to be double standard.

If you are a business, social media is a great way to humanize your brand.  The only way to humanize your brand is through your employees.  They are the most valuable asset to any company and in many ways actually define your brand.  Teach them social media, help them engage in it, and create an environment that encourages it.  This has been proven to be successful, just look at Zappos.   So whether it is in social media, at a business function, conference, or meeting a Customer at a local store, it is all about building and maintaining relationships.  Your employees are the biggest company cheerleaders, so please let them go cheer!

I apologize if this post seemed to go in a few directions.  While I was writing it I was having a conversation with someone that believes that companies should block social media websites and forbid employees from speaking about the brand.  It caused me to go in a little different of a conversation, but, like that individual, there are many people that do not understand the potential positive outcomes by building a social business.  Of course the conversation with that person was on Twitter!  Some do not see the benefits in gaining Customers, or how this new communication can really help businesses find new solutions and answers.  The social web has a lot of potential if a company decides to fully tap into it.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

The Social Media Fire, Will It Change Corporate Culture?

Posted on : 07-11-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, In the News, Marketing, Social Media, Technology


This is the third attempt for me writing this post.  This morning I woke up and read my email like I do every morning.  One of the emails was a Google alert with a reference to this San Francisco Chronicle article about “Social Media Going Corporate.”  In the article it stated the following:

At Comcast, employee Frank Eliason took the initiative last year to use his own Twitter account to contact customers who were tweeting about service problems. Now known as “Famous Frank,” Eliason has been credited with almost single-handedly turning around Comcast’s reputation. He heads a staff of 11 who monitor social networks and offer help to customers.

During a question-and-answer session at last month’s Web 2.0 conference, Comcast’s Roberts said the Twitter strategy has played a big part in changing the corporate culture “from inside the organization, not just the top down.”

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/07/BU341ACLD3.DTL#ixzz0WE9gWzSR

In my opinion the change in culture was due to so many people inside and outside the organization.  Some of the people I work with I give huge credit to the change, including my team, Rich Roberts (my former boss, now VP of Customer Care in Atlanta), Tina Waters (SVP and my boss), Rick Germano (SVP of National Customer Service), Jenn Khoury, (VP, Corporate Communications), and D’Arcy Rudnay (SVP, Corporate Communications).  But it was so many more than these individuals.  Team members throughout the organization, from techs, Customer Service representatives, managers, directors, and VPs from all area contributed.  Our Customers, who are very passionate about our products, and simply want a great experience to go with it.  As Rick likes to say “They are cheering us on, because they want us to get  it right.”  In dealing with so many, I can say Rick is correct, they do love our products and they want the opportunity to cheer for us, we just need to make sure we deliver on that.  This post is not about Comcast, but for those that do not know, I agree our culture has changed.  I have been seeing first hand, including changes in reporting structure, new systems, the implementation of the Customer Guarantee and the overall attitude of the company has shifted to be about the Customer experience.  In fact the new corporate credo is:

“We will deliver a superior experience to our Customers every day.  Our products will be the best and we will offer the most Customer friendly and reliable service in the market”

I am sure some will say they have not experienced this fully yet, but I will tell you a lot is being done to ensure you do.  You will be cheering!  Internally the conversation is always about the Customer experience and how to make sure we get it right.  I see a much different place than when I started 2 years ago.  I do not believe it was due to me, but a lot of the discussions in various spaces that started to come together at the same time.  Many of the discussions supported greater transparency, Customer focus, and an environment that questioned how things were being done.  As this took shape, the culture of the company changed.

So I wrote this post numerous times I kept singing in my head the following lyrics:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Aren’t these words so fitting regarding social media and corporate America?  Now I was not around when the phone joined the business world, but I can imagine someone saying they do not need a phone on their desk.  Yet today, many of us carry our work phone wherever we are.  I would imagine in the marketing space similar discussions happened with the transition from newspaper to radio to TV.  I remember email coming out and much debate over providing email access to all employees.  Today, I have work email 24/7 on my iPhone.  Even funnier was the reaction to using email for Customer Service.  Today who would not think to email a company for service?  Same was true regarding allowing employees having internet access on their desk.  This was done, but then many site were blocked due to productivity.  Of course I work on email at night and weekends, why would their be a problem if I updated Facebook at work?  So lets allow the song to continue:

Telephone, radio’s playing, newspapers, TV’s talking,
email, googling, paying bills, Pandora playing
Facebook Mafia wars, Blog updates galore
Following more Twitter stars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…

Social media is about relationships, and ultimately relationships are good for businesses and employees.  Will social media change corporate culture?  Well have other forms of communication?  I believe phone, email and the internet have already changed the culture for everyone, especially businesses.  With each new form of communication we gain efficiency and we find new ways to speak with Customers.  Can you imagine someone typing and copying memos?  Ugh, I would hate that.  For those that say Twitter and Facebook take away from the efficiency of the workers, the same was said about email and internet access.  I bet it was also said about phone too (oh no, a family member better not call).  Social media has made the world a smaller place (there are numerous examples of this) and I know it can make the business world smaller too.

The Basics of Service Still Hold True…

Posted on : 09-09-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media


In social media, the basics of service are no different than any other communications channel.  I find it interesting to watch companies work within social media to try to engage with their Customers.  It is obvious to me that there is still a fight as to who owns the social media interaction.  In most companies it is either PR or Marketing, but isn’t Customer Service the area that talks to Customers?  Many can say this is a new space and companies are learning.  I agree with that, but there is enough information out there to know what approaches tend to work best.  If you are there for PR, or even marketing, it may not be necessary to personalize the interaction, but for service it is a different story.  The trouble is many in marketing or PR view this to be all about the brand.  I have a little hint for you, the company or department does not own the space, your Customer does!

So how does the basics of service matter?  Because this is how all interactions should be, no matter the channel.  When someone calls your business do you answer the phone “XYZ Company, What do you want?”  No, most businesses answer the phone XYZ Company.  This is Frank speaking, how may I help you?”  The first key aspect that you learn is the human connection is so important.  Unfortunately this space, companies are too focused on the brand not their Customers.  You do not have to look at my Twitter handle to see this success, just look at Dell, who was truly a pioneering company in the space.  They have recognized this for years.  Now Zappos provides an even more in depth look.  They encourage, and teach, all their employees to participate in the space.  Now that is personal.

There are many ways to personalize Twitter.  My preference is different ID’s for different people, but I can understand why that may not be the preferred method for some companies.  Below are a few companies that are doing it right.  Ford has Shawn handling the FordCustService account.  QuickenLoans lets us know via the bio section that it is Kelly helping out, and Office_Live demonstrates a way to have multiple people on the same account.  Charter, and the UMatter2Charter team have been doing a good job in creating that personal connection.  They use separate accounts and they connect with their Customers.  Don’t you prefer to interact with a person?  I know I do.

Other basics to serving Customers is to have a conversation, do not sit there marketing outward the whole time.  Also, just like a call, make sure you resolve the Customers needs prior to offering sales.  This is where companies really make it about them, instead of their Customers.  I applaud all companies for trying to find ways to have success in this space.  I am always happy to see new companies learn about social media and ways they too can participate.

Who are some other companies that you view doing it right on Twitter?