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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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What Messages Do You Send to Your Customers?

Posted on : 21-03-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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Business, as well as people, are constantly sending messages to others without realizing it. These subtle messages send clear information, at least in the eyes of others. For many businesses this is what defines your brand to the Customer. There are tons of examples of this in businesses large and small. That receipt checker many companies have does not send a message of security or low cost, but instead it tells every Customer that you do not trust them. Some messages can also be positive, such as the greeter that used to say hi when you entered Walmart. Often this person was older or had a handicap, but they were usually very cheery and they sent a message that Walmart was part of the community. Of course taking them away, as Walmart has done, also sends a clear message. In my upcoming book @YourService I share many observations regarding brands we all know and love (or hate). Often I do not mention the specific brand, but you may recognize them from the stories I share. One of the brands I talk about but do not disclose by name is Lowes, but after reading this post on the Consumerist and my own subtle example from this week, I decided it might be helpful for businesses to learn from them. In the Consumerist post the Customer, Paula, ordered a dishwasher from Lowes.com. As with many Internet orders, the website posts a delivery date. It turns out that the delivery date they post is not to the Customer but to the local store. Why would a Customer care about that date? They want the product in their home!

Overall I love both Home Depot and Lowes. It is this love that causes me to want to see both organizations create the right Customer experience. In general I feel Home Depot faltered under former CEO Bob Nardelli. Under his leadership the stores were not as helpful and obviously focused on costs for Home Depot instead of the Customer. Under Frank Blake, the current Home Depot CEO, they seem to be working to correct that. I will continue to watch with interest. During the Bob Nardelli time, Lowes did an excellent job at filling the gap and creating the right experience, but a few recent subtle examples, make me wonder if they are not going in the opposite direction. In the book I talk about two experiences at Lowes where I wonder if self service has gone a little too far. One example is the cashier asking me to go to the other end of the store to get a new item because the one I had did not have a UPC. Why should the Customer have to do that? Of course I did, without even questioning. In another story I talk about the store only having self checkouts open and watching an older Customer struggling to use it. Should companies force self service? It is interesting that many supermarket chains are starting to get rid of self checkouts, preferring the opportunity to interact with their Customers. I personally like self checkouts for certain items and small quantities, but there are times I would prefer a cashier.

Earlier this week I was in Lowes and once again the only lane open was self checkout. I was purchasing about 20 little bags of bolts and washers. Have you ever done this in self checkout? First to prevent a Customer from accidentally or purposely not counting items, you are not permitted to enter a quantity. So I scanned each one, but of course the scale did not know I put the item in the bag since each item weighed virtually nothing, so it kept prompting the cashier to log in. This happened more often than I can remember during one transaction. This typically would have been a quick in an out with a cashier but due to their system it was a lengthy process. The person watching over the area was great at helping but did not enter any of the items. Tiny bags with UPC codes never easily scan. While I was struggling through this process I watched people walking up with carts of doors and wood, asking the person they are with how they could do self checkout with such bulky items. I finally made it through the process and paid. One cool part about Lowes is if you are a Lowes credit card holder, you receive an automatic 5% discount. So I used my Lowes card. After swiping the card I put it back in my wallet but then their system asked me to enter the last 4 digits of the card. Do you know why that is done? I am guessing that those who created the Lowes self checkout experience do not know either. This was started years ago because unscrupulous people would change the data on the magnetic strip of cards to reflect stolen card information. In a self checkout situation if I were using a card with stolen data, I would know the right digits to enter. Overall a very silly addition to the Customer experience. If you ever want to have fun with a self checkout get a lot of tiny bags of items!

Now let’s compare this to a self checkout experience this week at Home Depot. I ran in to buy a few small thing plus while I was there I decided to but one large deck board. Since I bought more than planned, I did not have a cart. There was a small line at the regular checkout and no one at self checkout, so even with the bulky board, I went there. As I walked up, the cashier walked over to me to scan the board even before I made it to the checkout. He then went on and scanned each item that was in my hand. I put the items in a bag, swiped my Home Depot card and a receipt printed. It did not ask me to type last 4 or even sign.

The process at Home Depot made me feel like my time was valued in every aspect of the experience. It was well thought out from the wireless scanner from the cashier to not weighing items scanned by him. He never had to log into the machine I was at. I also was not forced into the self checkout area, it was my choice. I would hope that the decision not to have cashiers available at Lowes was a local management decision (although poor one) as opposed to a corporate one. Of course the poor design of the user flow is corporate, so a bean counter there may be making the decision to force self checkout too. Either way, decisions companies make like these, impact decisions Customers make on where to shop. If I ever need items that I prefer not to take through self checkout, I know where I will shop. They sent me the message loud and clear! What are subtle messages businesses send to you?

Are We Creating the Age of Me?

Posted on : 31-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media

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The world is changing around us and in many ways I love how connected we are becoming. At the same time with the good there is always some bad. Their has been much discussion regarding recent legislation to protect copyright infringement and illegal downloads. I am not a supporter of the legislation and I personally believe it is a slippery slope for the government to advocate such actions. At the same time I do believe we should have an open dialogue regarding the issue.

Before I get into that, let me say I think other actions are creating a world about me, instead of the connected world that many of us envision. It starts with the manner businesses operated for years which to Consumers seemed to feel like they did not care. Policy and pricing decisions seemed to be part of back room deals to maximize profits at the Customers expense. Of course these can prove to be short term financial gains but could hurt long term. The record industry as an example limited ways to purchase music, so to get around that Consumers created new ways. Finally the record industry woke up and new alternatives have arrived but they will most likely not be at the same profit margins that were enjoyed for years. I wonder what would have been different if their pricing efforts were considered more fair? We have seen this same impact in movies and television. Of course the industry is only tepidly moving forward and for every few steps forward a few steps are taken back. As an example Starz is discontinuing its deal to distribute content via Netflix. Speculation is they fear its current deal with Netflix is hurting subscribers via cable. From the rumors I heard they wanted Netflix to have some sort of tiered pricing to combat that. For years the movie industry has controlled releases carefully to encourage people to go to high priced theaters, then buy DVD’s instead of renting, etc. In my view the trouble they have with illegal downloads comes down to this control and not creating an @YourService environment. It was all about them, so now their Consumers is saying, no it is about me.

Now we are in a social media world and businesses all over want to be a part of the conversations. They want their Customers to make it about the brand. Toward this effort businesses galore have offered discounts or free product to ‘like’ them or follow their every move. This may spur conversation for their brand, but at what cost? Is this type of marketing going to change Consumer behavior? We have all heard stories of small businesses trying to take advantage of the social world by buying Groupon deals only to find the business inundated with Customers only buying the item on the deal and the business losing a lot of money with little or no repeat business from the group. I think the key for businesses is to have a culture that aligns the experience with their Customer. Building an @YourService environment Customers will want to discuss your brand and build on the relationship you have with them. Trust is key, and very few businesses have it. Do you think the movie or recording industry had it?

I view a lot of work to be artistic, whether it is a book, movie, song, or even a more traditional business product. I want to see artists get their dues. It is hard work. I have been privileged over the years to be provided many books. What these artists do not realize is that I often also bought a copy. I own many duplicates! But I am proud of their work and I want them to have success. At the same time, I trust them so I am more likely to do that. You see I do not see it as a world about me, but rather a world built on trust and relationships. This is the @YourService world I envision.

Is It Just Me?

Posted on : 23-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized

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I just finished my book @YourService and it is filled with Customer Service stories. It has the good, the bad and the ugly. In my view the businesses must make a shift in the new @YourService economy. Your Customers and employees now control your brand image. Often I am struck by stupid easy things businesses could fix, yet they fail to do so. Is it just me that sees this?

As Customers, new technology has brought us greater ease, yet it has caused us to grow ever more frustrated. Case in point is my recent experience with Best Buy. Best Buy has been an interesting case study for me. Over the past few years the company has gained greater control of their market by the departure of Circuit City. I am a tech geek and have spent a lot of money with them, and most likely will continue to do so (although debating that based on my experience with Amazon). Recently Forbes had an interesting piece on ‘Why Best Buy is Going Out of Business Gradually‘. The post has many strong and truthful observations about Best Buy and ways they could improve. For a few years Best Buy has also been trying to send the message that they are working to improve, including their Twitter Twelpforce initiative, their community forum and ideation efforts, as well as their CEO blog, where he welcomes feedback. I did enjoy the CEO’s post in response to the recent discussion of the Forbes piece. The problem is it should never have taken such a long time to gain reaction from the company. No matter what words are said, actions are louder. Online feedback regarding the retailer has been negative for a number of years, and I have yet to see evidence of any changes the company has made to create the right experience. I should note that I know many people within the Best Buy social team and I adore them. The failure here is not their efforts, it is the failure of the leaders to understand their Customer. Winning in social media is not some program, it is creating the right experience for the Customer where they want to talk about your brand.

Unfortunately I want to speak about the brand in a negative manner, because that is more fitting of my recent experiences. As Consumers, I wonder if our actions have told companies that poor service is okay! I especially think that way because I tend to attract it. That is probably for a post another day. On Black Friday I was wasting time so I went window shopping at Best Buy. While I was there, a TV caught my eye and the price was great. I decided to buy it. Well after waiting really long (not in a line mind you, just one Customer was doing some odd things involving credit, which they were not approved). There were 3 associates there but no one could do anything while this situation played out. So I went online and ordered the TV from a store that was on my ride home. When I arrived I already received the email that it was ready so I went to pick it up. Amazingly there was no line late in the day for pickup so I thought I would be in and out. Well that was not the case. It took well over 40 minutes to get the item from the back. I chalked that up as my fault for shopping on Black Friday. A week later I decided to order an accessory for the TV. I did it online with store pickup. This is where I started to see the dysfunction of the company. About an hour after ordering I went to pick it up. I never received the email but in my prior experience this typically took about 30 minutes. I went to the store and the associate said there is nothing they can do until ‘they’ transmit it to us. First of all they is you and you are Best Buy. After waiting in the store for 30 more minutes, I decided to pick it up myself figuring I could easily cancel the order. Probably my mistake too. First they could not cancel the order in the store. The mysterious ‘they’ had to do it. You also are not able to do it online. Now this makes business sense, take someone who prefers to self serve and send them to a call. If you want to save money, make it easy to do things online! Calling is a trip, but needless to say, after many transfers it did not happen. I did learn that if you do not pick up the item, eventually they cancel it, so I did that. That brings me to my latest. I ordered a game system and some games for store pickup. When I received the first email it had an item with the wrong store as the pickup location. I quickly relooked at the order and for some reason the incorrect store was listed for 1 out of 7 items. Why would your online system even allow that to happen? Bad Customer experience! An easy warning asking do you want to pickup items at two locations would resolve this. Of course I still blame myself for not catching it prior to submitting the order. I do take issue with what transpired next. I called to cancel the order. When you do the only real option that fits is speak to someone, so I select that. Once you get to that point you have to describe your issue, and more importantly, the product you purchased, then you are transferred to describe it all over again. Of course you do not get to describe it when you are transferred to dead air or disconnected. After working on this for 30 minutes, I give up and head to pick up my items. I assumed the products were ready, even though the confirmation only listed two items. I luckily assumed right. While driving I called again and on the 4th attempt I was able to get the item cancelled. Why do I have to go through all that? Why, as I was getting increasingly frustrated, did no one empathetic to my frustration? I am willing to bet it happens so often that the agents simply do not care. This is all emblematic of a larger cultural issue.

As I vented this on Twitter, others came out to vent frustration, including Lon Seidman, who shared a strikingly similar post from 2009. Now I do love Best Buy and hope I start to feel the difference, but if it does not happen soon, I am afraid I will be seeking alternatives. Is it just or is service going downhill?

Do You Build the Right Messages for Your Customers?

Posted on : 18-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized

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I had a great experience returning an item to Lowes last week. The cashier made if fast and was very friendly. She even noticed, without me saying, the color difference which was the reason for the return. Even with that great experience I left with a different message and it is something that can help other companies too. Like many retailers, the service desk is located by the front of the store. It is fairly open area, so it is easy for Customers to see behind the counter. I am always fascinated by hand written signs behind service counters. They usually are something about the policy. In this particular location the sign was signed by the Loss Prevention department, so of course, I had to read it! I did take a picture but it was too blurry to share. Basically the message was to the service team. It was a reminder of a policy about Customer or employees trying to exit through the entrance. I immediately thought about all the times I exited through the entrance. 9 times out of 10 it was because I forgot something in the car. No the 1 out of 10 was not theft! It was because they did not have what I was looking for so I was leaving. Anyway the sign tell the service personnel if anyone tries to exit through that door, you are to immediately stop what you are doing, including helping other Customers and confront the person using the wrong exit and guide them to the other exit by the cash registers.

I should be clear that I understand the need for loss prevention, and years ago even did it. There are benefits for Customers in keeping costs low. That being said, telling a service agent to break away from the Customer they are helping to help the loss prevention team, is ridiculous. It is not the Customers fault that the loss prevention team is not able to watch the door properly. I also do not think it is a good practice to dictate what doors a Customer must use.

In this new world of @YourService it is important to know the message you are sending to your own employees and Customers. Their interactions are what define your brand. This handwritten memo is an example of this message. Have you seen message like this? As a Customer how do they make you feel?

Picturesque Service

Posted on : 17-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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It seems with all the technology we as Consumers are still growing frustrated by the service experience by companies. It seems to me many companies just created a patchwork quilt to meet the demands of their Customer. Of course many new companies, built from the ground up, are finding new ways to surprise and delight. Today I want to tell you about one of those experiences.

Our story starts with An email from a friend about a free picture book offer from Shutterfly. With the email we began putting together the book of 2011. What a year to watch the kids grow! Anyway, we complete the book and begin the check out process, but we realize the code was already used. No big deal, we check our email and it turns out we had the same offer, but the email went to junk. The friend that sent it to us was not as lucky. See the email was sent to her by another friend. So she emailed Shutterfly and within an they emailed her a code. She is now very dedicated to Shutterfly, because they could have said any number of things, including the offer was intended for select people, etc. They made it easy.

Today we have fairly low expectations of companies especially when it comes to the Customer experience. This is where Shutterfly differentiated themselves. Through the checkout process we decided to order a few more things, totally about $25. As we went through the check out process a $20 credit was automatically applied. It turns out we earned that credit when purchasing school pictures from Life Touch. Shutterfly did not put the onus on us to remember a code or that we even had it. They applied it automatically. The experiences you create are what lead to social media success (or failure). This is an @yourservice world!

Destroying A Brand in a Social World

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

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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.

Steve Jobs Changed the World but that Same Power is in You!

Posted on : 08-10-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Inspirational, Leadership

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Over the past few days we have been hearing many words to describe Steve Jobs, such as visionary, genius, maverick, friend, etc.  To me he was a hero, and that will continue throughout my lifetime.  As I look back on his life I do not get the sense that he was motivated by money or fame.  Steve was an extraordinarily passionate about ‘changing the world.’  He lived that passion in everything he did.  Steve seemed to live by certain ideals and concentrated on those.  I love that about him and hope I too can live up to my passions with such unyielding power.

Many leaders look at Apple, and Steve in particular as an innovator.  I believe it is due to the work of the Apple team that innovation has become such an overused word in business.  The funny thing is I have not seen any company innovate in the way Apple has, but I think they could learn from Steve regarding that.  Steve did not focus on the Customer or even metrics.  In fact Steve was frustrated by the whims of Wall Street.  Although he was Customer focused, he instead encouraged the team to focus on their dreams and desires in creating great products.  Through innovations, including the Macintosh, iMac, iPhone, iPad, and although not as much a commercial success, the Apple TV (I have 3 and love them), Steve did change the world, and I am willing to bet the biggest changes are yet to come from Steve.  The Apple success story after his return will be studied by management courses for years to come and I am willing to bet that we will someday see similar leaders driven to do something like ‘changing the world.’

Most days I read a variety of news stories, usually starting with either Google News or Yahoo News.  Thursday was no different.  Late that night I came across a few well-done pieces on the Christian Science Monitor.  The first, called ‘The Apple Effect: How Steve Jobs and Co. Won Over the World,’ was written prior to his passing and featured in their August issue.  The second is really what started me rethinking this blog post.  The article, “America Could Use Another Steve Jobs,’ was an interesting look at the late seventies, early eighties, and compared the times to now.  It then highlighted how a group of entrepreneurs, including Steve and Bill Gates, helped America regain confidence.  At the time many were worried about the economic power of Japan, similar to the way today many are worried about China.  The seventies also included a ten-year period with many economic and political challenges.  At the time, these ‘kids’ helped bring America to the top again, especially regarding technology.

Steve, like all of us, was a product of his history.  He grew up in the changing times of the sixties and seventies.  This most likely brought him the power to question status quo.   At the time when Apple started, he and Steve Wozniak were artists, bringing the Apple to life.  Steve and Woz could see how the computer could, and would change the lives for all of us.  As time went on Apple saw a few failures, but then came the Macintosh.  Apple must have felt like a dream to him!  Then then some tough challenges leading to his departure from the company he loved.  He then gained other interesting experiences that could continue to help shape him, including the development and eventual sale of NeXT to Apple.  He also invested in Pixar, which eventually came out with some movies many of us love to this day.  Pixar sold to Disney, making Steve Jobs its largest shareholder.  These experiences guided his artistic passion and vision.  He learned what he liked within different corporate cultures and what did not work for him or the companies he was involved with. He then returned to a damaged Apple.  Many thought Apple would soon be extinct, but Steve and the Apple team proved them wrong.  It was a rebellion.   His experiences all came together to create the Apple we know today.   Steve made tough choices, some of which alienated Apple from others.  He was tough regarding software that would be on the Apple computers, and even stopped allowing others to create Apple clones.  When he did not like the way companies sold his products, he simply changed the model, which eventually led to the Apple store being born.  Steve, based on his own likes and dislikes (not focus groups) would guide product design.  He had an instinct to what the masses would like.  He did not strive to meet everyone’s needs, just everyday people.  At times this frustrated people, especially when they felt Apple was controlling it.  The best example was the Apple App store, which limited what apps would be available for the iPhone and iTouch.  Steve was really controlling the user experience.  I will admit I was even frustrated by this once or twice, but after using similar devices, I can understand the importance of having a good experience with a device.

Anyway, as I look through Steve’s amazing career, I see a human being who was shaped by experiences.  Steve was an amazingly passionate person with a mission to ‘change the world.’  We may want to hold him up on a pedestal, but Steve simply embodied what is in many of us, but we choose to hold back.  Every one of us has a passion and, many times a mission.  As I read through the article about ‘America Could Use Another Steve Jobs,’ I have two thoughts.  First Steve was unique as all of us are.  My second thought is more in the lines of a song from the Lion King, the Musical.  The song is ‘He lives in You.’  The fact is many of Steve’s attributes, such as passion and mission is within all of us, it is just more a question of our own drive to live up to our passion.  You may not want to change the world, but you can create a very strong mission.  My personal mission is to change the Customer Service world.  In honor of Steve, I am going to make sure I have a much stronger focus on that.  I know I can change a small part of the world, as Steve has proven that one person can and has ‘changed the world’

Hosni Mubarak was an Influencer!

Posted on : 17-02-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media

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Okay, I know the headline was to catch attention, but it still brings up an interesting point. I am constantly hearing about influencers, and I thought it was a topic we should further discuss. By all definitions, Hosni Mubarek, former President of Egypt, was an influencer. He held control over much of the media, and in some ways, the internet. Yet the overwhelming voice of the people were able to change that. Simply by banning together, and connecting on the web and offline.

I meet people who are probably smarter than me when it comes to marketing, or even social media, but they focus so much on the influencer. Many want to give product to the influencer, in hopes they will speak well of it and add to sales. This always makes me wonder if influencers always started to hawk these products, how long will they retain their influence? I know for myself, I would want to turn them off. I like to connect with people for their intellectual ability not selling abilities.

Every time I think of influence, I always remember a conference in Atlanta where a telecom marketing person spoke about how she rewards people for saying nice things about her brand. As soon as she said it, I immediately thought ‘thank you for telling me that, now I do not believe good things said about that brand. Now I do not kid myself, I know that companies have policies for press and others so they can use product for reviews or articles. But for the most part press tend to work on ethical rules regarding gifts and free product. Companies also have similar rules limiting what they offer. There are also rules for disclosure for bloggers which should be enforced by the blogger, as well as the company who provided the product.

My favorite is when people start talking about giving preferential treatment to influencers when they need Customer Service. I personally feel everyone is an influencer and would be happy to share examples where negative or positive experiences by everyday people who have shared the experience and the content became influential. I know many will say companies provide preferential treatment to those who buy a lot of product or take advantage of multiple services. That is true and to me that makes sense. They create the revenue for the company and are very dedicated to the company based on their actions. Companies may provide them a dedicated team, or even other discounts. I think many understand that. I should point out that my first management role was in one of these service departments for the Vanguard Group of Investment Companies. My opinion is if you start to treat those with high Klout scores with preferential treatment, you run a number of risks. First if I regularly buy your product, have a lower score and find out, I will be irritated that you do not value me and you may lose me as a Customer. You are sending a message to other Customers that they are not as special as an influencer. The opposite can also cause trouble. People love to know they receive preferential treatment, but what happens if they feel a ‘regular’ person received a better Customer experience? Could they be loud regarding what they perceive as their poor treatment?

I also think this type of trouble could cause us to we see another Mubarak moment directed at the brand providing this ‘special treatment.’ I can see ‘regular’ Customers banning together and becoming the major brand influencer in a major negative way. Personally I would like to see brands realize every Customer can be an influencer and treat them in a way the builds them as advocates. What do you think about special treatment of influencers?

Twitter is Not Your Answer to Service

Posted on : 15-02-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media

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Fortune Magazine has an interesting piece by Anne Vandermey comparing Customer Service by channel, including phone, website, and Twitter.  They provided the same question to each channel and measured accuracy and speed of response.  What they found from most of the interactions was phone was still the best way to receive service.  I was not surprised by the findings, but there are a few other key points that should be made.  Here are a few:

1)   Customer Preferred Communication Style – Not everyone is going to prefer Twitter, the same way not everyone prefers phone or email.  My preference is email when I do not need an immediate response or I know a proper response will require research by the company.  If I have an immediate need, I will still call, although that is not my preferred means of communication.  Someone requesting a response via Twitter may not care if it takes a few hours to obtain the information.  They simply may like the fact that the answer will come to them in the place they are already hanging out.

2)   Customer’s Now Own Your Brand Message – Not just with Twitter, but also Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums, user reviews and so many other social websites, the Customer now owns your message.  They can be very loud regarding a bad or good experience with a product or service.  They take this message to any of the websites they can.

3)   Speed of Information – Depending on the nature of your business, Twitter can highlight an area of concern faster than other internal communications.  The reason for this is the way Twitter is designed.  Twitter asks a question: ‘What’s Happening?’  The answer to this question can provide insight prior to a Customer even calling.  Many times they state why they are calling a company before they even finishing dialing the number on the phone.  Ultimately listening is key, but I would say the same regarding all communications methods

Overall Twitter is not for everything.  It is difficult for many firms to discuss Customer private data in a public forum, so there are times conversations must shift to other communication methods.  The power of Twitter and other social media is the shift to the Customer.  It is raising the importance of Customer Service, and many companies are now scrambling to fix broken service departments, or ones focused on inaccurate goals.  In this new world order, the Customer is gaining the upper hand (and so is your front line employee), whether you are on Twitter or not.  Twitter is not the cause, nor is it the solution.  There has been a Customer revolution going on; are you ready for the evolution of your business?  To me this is the more interesting conversation instead of speed of response.  At the same time I enjoyed the article because it did show how some are focusing Twitter more on the PR side of service and not improving all channels.