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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...


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...


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...


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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You Heard it Before from Me But This is in Video Form

Posted on : 30-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media


Facebook Shifting Power to the Consumer?

Posted on : 28-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Social Media

Tags: ,


We have been watching the groundswell of Customers in social media, but a current beta for Facebook will completely change the game.  According to Facebook’s statistics there are over 200 million users, with many rumors topping that number well above 300 million.   Compare this to the rumors regarding the size of Twitter which is about 30 million or more.   We have all watched recent enhancements to Facebook that have more Twitterfied the experience.  Now they are adding the capability to share status with everyone, and potentially this information will be searchable.  But what does this all mean, and why are they doing it?

Rumors last fall were that Facebook was making a bid to buy Twitter, but talks never really took off.  Whether the rumor was true or not, there is no doubt that Facebook saw value in what Twitter has to offer.  We have seen many examples where news has taken off via Twitter.  Most recently the uprisings in Iran were broadcast live via Twitter directly from Iran.  This way of communicating is really making the world a smaller place.  We also watched recently has news of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passing away.  Even fake news has the ability to spread like wildfire, such as the incorrect rumor of Jeff Goldblum dying.  Every piece of news over the past year or so really started via Twitter.  I am sure the same as true in Facebook, but because there was no central resource of this data, no one would know unless you were friends with those talking.  The top 10 Twitter search was a true game changer.

For those that want to get the most out of Twitter, search makes it really easy.  By entering a few key words you can quickly locate new friends that are talking about things of interest.  Facebook has search but it is limited to thing like people’s bio, groups or specific pages.  Not easy to connect with someone that may be talking about a unique musical interest or something like that.  So to me Facebook was always about existing friends.  Twitter has always been about meeting new friends.

So how is this shifting the power to the Consumer?  Today most people online have a megaphone, but the reach may be just within their reach of friends.  It is easier to spread your thoughts on any businesses that you deal with, but it is limited within Facebook.  By changing the status to be available for everyone, this will now provide a megaphone to speak to 100’s of millions of people at any given time.  How will a company respond?  It is time to think about that now.   Advertising on Facebook has not always had the best reach, especially since people tend not to click on the ads.  Ones that have been successful are typically very unique and very hit or miss.  One of my favorites was the Burger King Whopper giveaway.  But now business will have to find a way to harness the power of the Consumer voice, respond to it and create the right experience.  Of course all of this starts with creating the right experience for products and serviced offered to the Customer (and non-Customers for that matter), otherwise this potential groundswell can be much larger than anything we have seen before.  Also people will talk about a product or service, even if not seeking help through ordinary channels.  This will make it where companies will be forced into the conversation.  The one thing we know is in this Google world, information, right or wrong will always be available through Google.

Ready or not, here comes your Customer!

Business Cards are so Passé

Posted on : 14-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

Tags: ,


So this morning I received this email (I edited the email address out but remainder is the same):

From: Martine Paris
Sent: Sun Jun 14 02:03:30 2009
Subject: Plug on Content NOW from TWTRCON

Hi All,
Thanks for the great presentation at TWTRCON.  You got a plug at:
The blog post is in a notes format.  Please feel free to email edits or additions.
Looking forward to your thoughts!
All the best,
Martine Paris
Editor, Content NOW

I reviewed the post.  It is about the recent TWTRCON event in San Francisco, which was excellent.  During my panel discussion on Customer assistance on Twitter, Francine Hardaway chimed it with a fun story of how I helped her with trouble with her Apple router.   The story with Francine is one that I will never forget and she will be a friend forever (well doesn’t that sound so teenage like).  What basically occurred was our conversation shifted from social media to phone.  This does happen at times because the phone can be useful to walk someone through many steps in fixing something.  This same thing happens when someone needs assistance via email and more questions are necessary.  After we were able to fix things I received a call on my cell and it was a hotel that found her phone.  I was able to tweet francine on exactly where she could find her iPhone.

After that story, Dave McClure chimed in to say this story proves social media service is not scalable.  This led to a little back and forth regarding the scalability.  In my opinion he is incorrect, and we have proven that you can have a multiple people within social media, especially a place like Twitter.  Today we have 10 people on Twitter and we are also in many other spaces on the internet.  As I discuss in the post “The big question for @comcastcares is: How will they scale?” it is really about the tools that are being developed.  My big question for those that do not believe it would scale, what would you recommend companies do, ignoring commentary has not worked?

I know many would respond to that saying that companies need to improve traditional service channels, and I wholeheartedly agree.  This is a new time and Customers are more in control and companies must recognize that fact.  At the same time I will tell you that there will be a large percentage that will still request help online first.  In fact I would guess that most people are like me and google something before calling (in fact a Gartner study shows this is 50% and growing).  I can also say that the majority of people that we assist never called, emailed or entered into chat.  The other trouble is with many products, like internet, trouble can be with many other devices not controlled by the provider, such as router, computer, or even servers throughout the net that a company does not control.  We have to find a way to converge support to help with all these areas, and the web offers perfect solutions for this (I will save this for another post because I am developing a project on this topic).

This brings me back to the purpose of this.  In the post in the email it offers a synopsis of the talk and ends with the following statement about me:

“But for all that talk, Dave McClure was right, at the end of the presentation, Frank was not giving out any business cards. So much for accessibility.”

They are right, I did not bring business cards with me.  I did respond to the email with the following message:

That is interesting that you felt not having business cards proved that social media efforts were not scalable, yet you were able to contact me via email, could also do the same via Twitter.

Maybe the world has not changed as much as I thought if we are still looking for, even expecting, business cards at an event about Twitter.  I think the benefit to Twitter is how close it brings us all together.  It make the world a much smaller place.  I guess I was wrong about that.  Actually the fact was I did not go in the office during the week leading up to the trip and did not want to go in just for business cards.  So I do feel bad if anyone that wanted my business card did not get one, so I am offering it here for anyone.

In the Middle of a Groundswell

Posted on : 08-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Living in Philadelphia

Tags: ,


Over the past 18 months, some would say that I am living within the groundswell, but since Friday I have truly been witnessing it first hand.  I have always felt that groundswell typically would be large scale and involving social media, but in this situation I have learned that it can happen wherever multiple Customers can communicate with each other.

I should start the story off by saying parents, including myself, become very attached to really good care givers for their children.  For me it takes a lot, but this is the story of one such exceptional person.  Her name is Sam, and until Friday she was the director of our daycare, Children of America.   I am going to try to stay unbiased in this because I am really trying to share a story about a groundswell.  The daycare has been very good to us, and I am sure many would take credit, but to me it was how our center ran, which I credit Sam.  We have reported issues to her, and they were immediately addressed.  Including 2 teachers that were no longer there shortly after we gave the feedback.  Anyway the story starts last Thursday.  We arrived later then usual and in our mailbox was a notice that Sam would be leaving effective the next day.  They would have a party 7-9 in the morning.  The letter was signed by the regional director.  It also stated the district director would be taking Sam’s place until a new director was identified.  We did not realize it, but there were 2 problems with the letter.  First Sam does not work at 7 on Friday’s, she works at 9.  Second, the letter was not placed in mailboxes until after many kids were already picked up.

So I am thinking there are a few key components  to a groundswell:  passion and a negative Customer experience, like poor communication

But there is another key component, means of communication.  The next morning it all began.  Early in the morning an email came through asking about a rumor that Sam was leaving.  I did not realize it, but many of the family members were connected via email.  Based on the review of the emails, everyone was irritated that they were not informed ahead of time of Sam’s departure.  I think I know what the issue here was.  Sam was leaving to be a regional director for a competing firm, so following procedure the company is paying her for the 2 weeks and asked her to leave.  I can not take offense to this because I have implemented this elsewhere.  At the same time, if it were me I would have tried to find a way to retain this employee (in my opinion she is that good).  So the emails continued and calls started to the regional director.  Then discussions started about the district director that was planning to work at the center.  Needless to say they were not complimentary about either of them, words such as demeaning, condescending, intrusive, and creepy.  I have never really met either, so I am not sure but these emails are my first impression.  I hope people remember that this is due to the passion people feel for their children and the best possible care for their children.  The statements are not personal, just the passion coming out.

The next thing I know emails are now flying to the CEO and other leaders of the company.  It led to some good conversations, but then a response was sent to the list from one of the leaders, Jim.  It was really a bulleted list of talking points and not a conversational email, but it was an attempt to provide the companies position.  The email even included a phone number to call him over the weekend if there were concerns.  They also made sure the regional and district manager were at the location when it opened today on Monday morning.   This may have helped a few, but it further agitated some on the chain.  So then the one person decided to call Jim.  According to the many emails on the topic, lets just say  the conversation did not go as you would have expected.  Obviously I was not on the calls but perception is reality and the group was provided a certain viewpoint.  According to the one email he yelled at the Customer and told her to follow Sam and leave.  Needless to say things were blowing up much further and truthfully control was lost.

Groundswell can happen wherever there is passion, negative experience and communication among a group.  The control is not there and you may not even have a say in how it plays out.  What this taught me is everyone has to be on top of their game when dealing with any Customer.  They need to create the right experience.  When passion is there, be careful what you say, and listening may be the best recourse.   In an email I sent to Jim on Friday night was a recommendation that they apologize to the families for the miscommunication, and I thought it would also be a good idea to invite the families to be a part of the hiring process.  This may not be the usual approach but based on everything I was reading this seemed to make the most sense and would start to diffuse the trouble.  Unfortunately with the emails today about the phone conversation, it may be lost cause.  It is really sad to see because the teachers at the school are great, I love the fact that they supply lunch, and are opened during many of the holidays.  But this little activity over the past 5 days will change the feeling for many, whether due to real circumstances or not.  This was a large groundswell for a relatively minor issue that will define this brand for a long time, especially among the families at our location.

I am hopeful for recovery, but it is so much harder when a brand loses control over the situation.  It is interesting to watch.  Have you ever seen a groundswell?

Are You a Blogger? No Medical Care for You

Posted on : 04-03-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media


Driving in today I heard an associated press report that really had me concerned.  Many businesses have tried to find ways to change perception about their brand, sometimes going as far as creating fake reviews, such as the Belkin example.  But now some doctors are trying to influence reviews by making it part of their contract for care that patients can not rate their service.  Read the story “Docs Seek Gag Orders to Stop Patient Reviews.”  I think I feel a groundswell coming!

Do you see a day where everything we buy comes with a contract or terms of use forbidding talking about the business?  What if it was changed to say you can only say positive things, but not negative?  Is this going to change the game?

This practice will cause multiple issues for businesses, including doctors.  Lets look at a few:

  • Not Allowing the Positive Groundswell – If you are doing things right, your own Customers will come to defense of any negative commentary.  By having a rule like this they would be afraid to
  • Negative Commentary will Still Happen – If someone had a bad experience they will want to tell the world and rules like this will not stop it.  The web can be a very anonymous place.
  • Groundswell Just for Having the Rule – What I think will really happen is people will start tracking organizations that create rules such as this and advise everyone not to use them

This is a slippery slope.  I am not surprised it is being done, and I am actually surprised it has not been done by others.  This is being done by people who are short sighted and uninformed about the groundswell within social media.  If there is a fear of this discussion the best options are to create the right experience the first time, but also find ways that Customers, oh I mean patients, can provide feedback to your business.  Then take this feedback and take action to improve when possible.

This is personal for me because I have used the web to share thoughts on medical care and my child.  I elected not to share all the negative stories, to which we have many, but that was my decision and not one forced on me.   There are great organizations to help families share the course of treatment on the web, such as Caringbride.org.  Will policies like this be so restricted that families would not be able to communicate in the way they prefer? Or will it censor what they can say?  Could a website like Caringbridge.org be sued because someone said something negative about a doctor?

To the defense of the docs, they are not permitted based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (better known as HIPAA) to discuss private patient information with anyone except the patient (and their insurance carrier) without written consent from the patient.   So they most likely would not be able to defend wrong information being written about them or clear any misconception.

I think it is time for some people to get past their egos and stop trying to prevent what will occur no matter what the legal mumbo jumbo has to say.  What do you think?

UPDATE:  While I was writing this the Consumerist posted “Warning:  Going to the Doc? Be Sure You Don’t Sign A Gag Order.”  In the post they talk about how RateMDs.com will create a wall of shame for doctors using the gag order.  Let the groundswell begin

Being a Personal Brand

Posted on : 26-02-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media


Groundswell can be positive or negative for any organization, or for that matter an individual.  This is what makes social media so unique, and in my opinion so special.  Over the past few weeks I have seen a swell of discussion regarding my friend Scott Monty.  There were some critical of Scott, but to me it was a good chance to have further conversation on the topic.  First of all we all represent our employers whether we are at work at the time or on Twitter.  If you were a sales person, and you made a comment that was questionable, and a client saw it, do you think anyone would say oh he was on twitter at home so that is ok?  Another aspect to this discussion, as David Armano pointed out in his post, is the fact that Scott Monty already had a personal brand prior to joining the Ford team.  It is probably part of the reason why they selected him to lead their social media effort.  Beyond all this, I thought I might be able to add some personal perspective to the conversation.

Over the past year I have developed a personal brand , not intentially but it has still happened.  I have been weirded out by all the discussion over doing what seemed to be natural;  helping people who were looking for assistance.  A side effect was being a part of the conversation of businesses in social media.  Throughout the process of learning about social media, I was provided feedback.  I utilized this feedback when I could.  One piece of that feedback suggested using my own picture instead of the Comcast symbol.  This made sense to me, because when I service Customers via the phone I always strive to add a personal touch.  Why would I not do the same in social media?  This was really common sense.  Some people may have difficulty with this, and for that matter businesses too.  Now the brand and the individual are tied together in many ways.  Scott Monty and Ford are closely connected in the same way that I am connected to Comcast.  This changes the playing field a bit.  A true partnership develops that strengthens both the organization and the individual.

This may cause organizations to try to remove some of the personalization with their social media efforts.  I would warn against that.  Social media is not about selling, dictating, or marketing.  It is really a great place to build a relationship and participate in a conversation.  Relationships are better 1 to 1.  The best approach in my opinion is to educate all your employees on using social media.  This is what I like to refer to as the Zappos model, mainly because they have made this a standard for others to live up to.   Lately you may have noticed that I have not been on Twitter as much during the day.  This is because I have elected to build a team structure.  I want to provide @ComcastBonnie, @ComcastGeorge and @ComcastBill the opportunity to build their brand and demonstrate that this is not a one person effort.  My goal, similar to many, is to continue to grow in my career and continue to challenge myself.  I also want to build something that will live on and continually evolve in this ever changing world.  There is nothing more special than building something that is sustainable for the long haul.  My team is doing just that.

There is another side to being a personal brand associated to a business that is not always seen, and one of the reasons it is not for everyone.  I have had great success that has been recognized by numerous social media websites and traditional media.  How many people have the opportunity to be in articles like “Comcast’s Twitter Man” for Business Week online?  At the same time, what I do not discuss as much is the personal attacks that sometimes happen.  These occur in comments for articles, blogs or directly to me on Twitter.  Now I understand most of the time it is really meant for the company but that is not how they are worded.  How would you feel if you did a google search and you found a story that you have a small penis?  Well this has happened to me.  A Customer posted a blog that he could not do something on the Comcast DVR.  I wrote a response explaining how to do what he was trying to do.  The next day he did another post saying I was right, but you cannot do something else.   I responded with directions on how to do it.  The next day he followed it up with a post titled “Frank Eliason Probably has a Small Penis.”  This post was explaining I was right.  If this happened to an individual they might post a reponse that attacks the writer, but since I am associated with a brand, I posted a response thanking them for the feedback.  I remember the first time I saw this post on a Google search, my first thought was “I do not get paid enough to deal with this!”  As we all know the web is a permanent place.

The groundswell has been good to me, and generated a lot of positive discussion.  Many aspects contribute to thus.  First and foremost I think it is the outstanding work of my team.  Without them I would not be writing this today.  It also has to do with the friendships in social media, including Customers that I have helped.  At the same time, it also comes down to hard work.  Gary Vanderchuk has talked about passion and hard work to achieve his status in social media and the business world.  I am not sure if the countless hours I have spent helping Customers, even at night or the weekends, are even recognized.   In contrast, this hard work is respected in the world of social media and has contributed to the groundswell of support.  If I did the basics, I am not sure it would have been noticed.   Working hard always has the long term benefits.  Passion is another key ingredient.  My passion is creating the right experience for Customers.

Is the personal brand a bad thing?  In my opinion, no.  In fact it is really priceless recognition.  I know Scott Monty has lived up to this recognition, I just hope I can too!

P.S.  Here is a great example for a business in how not to handle social media:  Consumerist:  “Ryan Air Employee Calls Blogger “Idiot” and Their Spokesperson Publicly Agrees”

Making the Brand. Social Media for the Long Haul

Posted on : 16-02-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media


What do you get when you add together Ian Schafer, Brian Morrissey and Gary Vaynerchuk?  A lively discussion on social media and business participation.  Immediately when I viewed the video on Friday I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to share it here.  Not only are they great minds when it comes to social media, they make points that every business needs to hear.  A few weeks ago I did a presentation about business blogging and the person that represents that to me?  GaryVee.  Not that every business should act the same way he does, that is not the point of social media.  We should not try to be someone we are not.  In my opinion the key to Gary’s success is his passion.  That is what it is all about.  I have a passion for Customer Service, and that comes out in everything I do.

So what is the key to hiring for social media?  It all comes down to that passion.  Most likely you already have that person within your organization.  Instead of hiring that expert, tap into this passionate person to represent the brand.  When I hire for positions on my team I am always striving to hire the most passionate people.  They are always successful and they do a great job at representing the brand.

The key for any business to understand is people will be talking about your brand whether you are there or not.  If there are flaws within your organization they will be magnified in social media.  So it is important for the organization to identify and work on these issues.  I will say , from experience, social media is a great place to learn the pulse of your Customers.  It is not a statistical sample of opinion but it is certainly a sample of the loudest opinion.  My favorite part about the space is how well it brings the Customer story to life.  If you work for an organization that is looking to improve, gathering feedback from blogs and other social media spaces is phenomenal.  People may like to look at numbers, but when they relate to a story things really change.

The converse is social media will reward organizations that have a positive way of doing business.  The way to measure this is simply do a search for Zappos.  Their model is about allowing and teaching social media to their employees.  It is the model to build from.  It comes down to their policies and how they are so well liked by their Customers, such as 2 way shipping. 

Another fun topic that is brought up is the famous sleeping tech video impacting a company I know.  This is a great lesson for companies and why it is so important to listen to your Customers through all channels to improve the experience.  Ultimately something like this can come out.  The reason I actually love the example is it was a driver for my company to listen closely to social media.  It then led to the work my team and I have been doing over the past year or so.  In the video there was some discussion about my own worth to Comcast, but I want to say a few things on this.  My worth is really because of the great team of people I work with.  It is also why I am a big believer in having a team involved in social media.  This allows everyone to take part in the conversation.  Also if one person does leave there are other great people to step up to the plate.  At Comcast we have a number of great people involved in social media, include @ComcastBill, @ComcastBonnie and @ComcastGeorge.  We also have many other great team members involved in other social media spaces or working behind the scenes to ensure we are successful.  That is how you can build a social media Customer advocacy team to last.

Just When I Thought Airlines Would Start to Turn the Tide…

Posted on : 10-02-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service


First I want to applaud the crew of US Air flight 1549.  The calm and cool demeanor of this hard working crew really came through in this incident.  It is the type of crew you hope for during any flight (and truthfully the type of crew I have usually seen on flights).  They did a fabulous job in saving the lives of the passengers and the crew.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to see their accolades, especially when they came on the field for the Super Bowl.  They are the ones that truly deserved a standing ovation.

A few weeks ago I started to recieve the Wall Street Journal print edition.  Years ago when I worked for an investment firm I received the paper each day and enjoyed reading it.  I forgot how much I missed it.  The funny thing to this is I received the paper because of Skymiles from Delta Airlines.  I am actually now receiving a number of magazines due to an offer from the airline.  My wife told me I would receive a number of blog posts by reading it each day, and she was right.  The trouble I have had was narrowing what I wanted to talk about.  I hope to do a better job in the future.  This brings me to an article I read today:  “Why Fliers Can’t Donate Unused Tickets.”

This article points to a number of flaws within the airline industry.  First and foremost is the various pricepoints for most flights.  The article in summary states that you can not donate unused non-refundable tickets for charities like, the Make a Wish Foundation (one of my favorites).  There are a variety of excuses that the spokespeople use, such as costs (like they would not have a fee for that), security concerns (TSA says no problem), fraud, hording of tickets, potential resale of tickets (oh no, someone else could profit off of the various rates for airline tickets).  Ultimately this would all be solved by having single prices for routes and not have cheap prices one day and expensive prices another day.

Now truthfully I do not anticipate the airline industry to change their pricing model immediately (although I would love it if one did).  But this was not a difficult piece to differentiate yourself from competitors and put a nice foot forward.  I am sure there was much discussion regarding what would be said to the reporter regarding the issue of donating unused tickets.  Instead of these variety of excuses, wouldn’t a brand have done wonders in differentiating themselves by saying something like “that would be a great way to help some charities that can benefit from our services and we are working on a program to do that easily with certain approved charities.”  I know if I would have read a quote like that I would be much more likely to select that airline.  It would have even been better if they said, “hey that makes sense and we will implement that.”  Okay I am pushing it with that quote.

After my last post on airlines, I started to notice minor things within the industry that I was thinking we were on the brink of something changing.  After the crash of US Air flight 1549 and the reaction to the crew and US Air toward the crash victims, I thought things would change.  In fact I wrote a post but never published on how great US Air was trying to make sure the passengers of that flight were cared for.  I actually wanted to write kudos to them for a job well done.  I was comparing the handling of that accident to one from another airline in Colorado.  It was a definite improvement.  Unfortunately this article took an already battered industry down another notch.  And, in my opinion, that was their own doing by the manner they responded to the question.  Now I would anticipate some backlash regarding donating tickets, and then eventually companies changing policy one by one.  How long do you think that will take?

UPDATE:  Just as I was going to bed, I noticed a link on the Consumerist regarding United Airlines discontinuing their India call center for complaints in favor of written complaints.  Okay things might be going a different direction.  Check out this Seattle Times Story:  “United to Stop Taking Complaints by Phone.”  That is one way to make complaints go away.  Now to be fair they will take complaint from their largest Customers.

How Does Your Expectations Influence Your Opinion?

Posted on : 02-12-2008 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Personal

Tags: ,


As I stated in yesterday’s post, this weekend we did go out a few times.  This included out to dinner on Friday and Saturday night.  Nothing fancy mind you, but that is still exciting because with a 2 year old and a 10 month old it does not happen often.  On Friday night we were driving back from Koziars Christmas Village and we needed to eat something.  As we were driving in the middle of no where, making our way toward civilization, Allentown.  Yes Allentown at that point was reaching civilization!  We were reading billboards of different places to eat.  Many we never heard of.  Then we saw Cracker Barrel, which we have never been to but we joked about.  Well we said a few jokes and then we saw an ad for Perkins.  Okay I could go for some breakfast food so that was perfect.  As we were driving past the exit for Cracker Barrel my wife joked that I was resistant to change.  Of course this is a dare, so I immediately got off the exit and Cracker Barrel was chosen.  Yes I do fall for “I dare you!”


On Saturday we were out again looking at the lights at Peddlers Village, we then decided to do a quick run to WalMart.  Afterward we were hungry and it was a little later so there should not be a wait anywhere.  For the longest time I have wanted to try a new “chain” restaurant in our area called 99.  Every time we tried to go it would have a long line out the door.  I could not really see a difference to TGI Fridays or something like that, but there were crowds.  We actually saw this at 2 locations so we were looking forward to giving it a try.


So let’s review, I had limited or low expectations for Cracker Barrel and rather high expectations for 99.  Here is a quick review of each based on these dinners:

  1. Cracker Barrel – We walked into Cracker Barrel in Allentown, and instead of a restaurant it was a cute little general store with many items.  We walked around for a little while and checked it all out.  When we did get seated we reviewed the menu to find home style cooking options.  We were sort of in the mood for breakfast but the choices were good.  They did not have alcoholic beverages, so I decided coffee was good for the moment.  The coffee was not the greatest, but not bad.  We placed our order.  The waitress immediately brought over corn muffins and biscuits.  I ordered a sample platter which included chicken dumplings, meatloaf and ham.  I have to say it was really pretty good.  It was just like home made.  The only negative with my food was it was colder than I would expect, but I ate it anyway.  After dinner instead of having dessert we decided to order a pie to take home.  We picked an Apple pecan crumb or something like that.  I have to say I was impressed and now I am looking to go back and try their breakfast.
  2. 99 – We went to the Warrington 99 Restaurant on Saturday.  The place was structure with a bar that was boxed in with walls and window, segregating that space.  There were signs expressing the different reasons for 99.  One cool thing was that they try to tie in with the community, including pictures of older local high school sports team.  The menu reminded me of Fridays or similar place.  They had many beers on draft, so I had a Sam special winter beer.  There seemed to be an emphasis on steak.  My wife had a crab cake sandwich.  It was good, and included 2 crab cakes.  I had another combo.  The only reason I had this was after I ordered the Prime Rib, the waitress came back a while later to say they were out.  So I ordered a combo of steak and salmon on cedar plank.  The salmon was good, but it is something I make at home so it was really not that special.  The steak looked like it was cooked with a weight on the top of it.  It was flat as can be.  Needless to say it really did not taste like anything.  The funniest was the biscuit.  It was hard as a rock.  It would break apart but made a good clink sound when hitting it against anything.  During the meal we asked for another milk which did not come until after the check.  They were kind enough not to charge us for the 2nd milk.  I did ask the waitress if it was normal for the biscuits to be that hard.  She did say no.  The bill was about $50 for 2 adults, 1 kids meal, 1 milk and 2 beers.  Overall I was not very pleased with the experience.  I did not see it much different than other offerings.  Basically if I want an inexpensive steak meal I think I would go to Outback.  If I want burgers (which they seem to also have plenty of), I think I would go to Ruby Tuesdays or Chili’s.  I have no plans to go back because it really did not differentiate itself. 
So that is a summary of the 2 places.  After leaving Cracker Barrel I immediately started to plan to go back to try breakfast.  This was from the person that was joking about it minutes before going.  At 99 I immediately decided I would not be back.  What is interesting about that was it was not that different than what I might see at Fridays, yet I would go back there.  I think I built up an expectation that it would be good and it did not live up to that expectation.  Cracker Barrel on the other hand I had no expectation, or maybe even a negative one.  The okay experience I had is causing me to go back.  Have you ever had a preconceived opinion influence you like this?  How does a brand set the right expectation to create an environment you want to come back to?

Listening to Your Customers

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


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


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

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

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

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