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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...


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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Chipotle Aims High But Misses Low on Twitter

Posted on : 25-07-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on July 25, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

One of the earliest definitions I heard about marketing spoke of building relationships with customers and prospective customers. But sometimes it feels like we are far from that, especially in social media.

Too often lately marketing feels more like a desperate effort to garner attention for the brand through every channel possible, especially in social media. It’s extremely difficult for any brand or person to be noticed in social media simply because there is an excessive amount of content available for anyone, so users drift to the content that is most relevant to them.

Earlier this year Oreo made a splash when it posted an image during an unusual power outage at the Super Bowl. “You can still dunk in the dark” got lots of attention. At the time I applauded them for such a creative approach and timeliness, which was incredible. I am not sure I could have had an image approved so fast.

Since that time we have seen many brands jump on the “real-time” marketing bandwagon. The problem is when everyone is doing it, it comes across more about spamming people instead of being one with he community.

I still think Oreo does the best of all the brands because they typically do not try to spam a hashtag or key word search. Instead, they simply share in the hope that their followers will take the message forth.

The Royal Birth brought the greatest backlash toward brands trying to capitalize on the attention — you can read more on the “real-time” marketing backlash here and here. (I am not a Royal watcher, and did not follow the conversation on the topic, but I do want to congratulate William and Kate, as I would for any new parent.)

The latest brand mistake in social was a royal one but not involving the royal family or baby George. It actually involves a fairly beloved brand, or at least one I love: Chipotle. Chipotle is celebrating its 20th anniversary and they wanted to make a splash.

That they did.

On July 21st there were some odd tweets on their Twitter account — not Anthony Weiner odd, but still a little weird, including one that seemed to report a password.

Turns out this was not a hack, but a marketing stunt to garner more followers (measure bad things get bad results!). According to ABC they garnered 4,000 more followers as a result of the silly stunt. This of course is not the first time an account faked being hacked, as MTV did in February.

There are a number of problems with faking something like this. First it is not being a strong member of the community, it instead is reinforcing that Chipotle wants to be the center of attention, not one with the community. This is a big challenge for brands because social media is not the push media like TV ads, it is community driven. I am sure it was an idea presented by either an employee or partner to get people talking, and the effort did just that.

So they gained discussion, but lost trust, at least with me. I used to hold Chipotle up as one of the good brands, but now they come across like so many others. I do want to be fair: There are many out there who like what Chipotle did because it was funny, harmless and garnered attention to the brand. I take deeper issue because it does play to the trust issue with consumers, but also with partners such as Twitter.

The fact is when an account is hacked people immediately look to Twitter, often blaming them for the lack of security. Every time something like this happens many security analysts start to try to assess what went wrong and how to prevent it for their brand. Twitter, like all social networks, has a team that investigates these things. This whole thing reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld, “The Scofflaw” where Jerry and George’s friend Gary tells George he has cancer, but in reality he does not. In my view Chipotle was Gary in this effort.

So what is a brand to do to garner the attention they desire? I would recommend the following:

  • Stop trying to be the center of attention. Try to make your own Customers the center and provide them the tools and information to take your message forth. Doing so you may find you achieve your original goal in greater magnitude.
  • Social media does not start with pushing some message. Your product and service can be your message. Chipotle could have done so much with the millions who enter their locations each day. Companies have to get better at connecting all their messages they send, including to their employees (their greatest advocates) and their Customers.
  • Know the community you serve. Each of these social networks is a community and often there are sub communities within them.
  • Respect others even if not part of the community. Respect is such a message often forgotten, but in the Chipotle example did they respect the company Twitter or the community

UPDATE: I want to make clear that this effort by Chipotle was part of their Adventuritto game and some of the tweets were part of that puzzle. It is interesting to see the change in quotes from their PR team. In the ABC News piece Chris Arnold from Chipotle stated “We did it to get more people talking about that short string of posts.” The Washington Post reported “the company never intended to upset people and denied that the fake hack was simply a ploy to grab followers. “We apologize if anyone felt misled by this or didn’t like how the promotion was handled,” Arnold said. The messages, he said, were meant to be clues for the company’s “Adventurrito” treasure hunt promotion, in honor of its 20th anniversary.” Which was a clearer response. As some have pointed out this was intended for their community playing the game. The challenge to the effort is Twitter is very public and cautious about hacks (okay some are not cautious but find them funny). When they tweeted that they had problems with the account, alarms went off throughout the Twitter community and beyond. Kyle Flattery wrote a post going more in depth on the security challenge, and I have heard from many others on that topic. You can read more on his blog. This game has created some challenges for Chipotle from the start, including the need to change the rules early on because of potential manipulation. I certainly love the brand and what they historically have stood for, especially their stance on GMO’s. I think they were off the mark here, but of course I will continue to support them.

How Brands Shouldn’t Handle a Tragedy on Social Media

Posted on : 16-04-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on April 16, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Events in Boston have been heart wrenching to all of us. I for one have been glued to coverage as the events unwind, not unlike similar tragic events in the past. I always take solace in the extraordinary ways people come to the aid of those in need. These individuals restore faith in humanity after such an unhuman act. I would like to express my gratitude to the first responders who go toward the danger to aid others. These are the heroes in this world and we do not celebrate them enough. I offer my deepest condolences to the family who have been impacted by this tragic event, and to the city of Boston.

In the business world we tend to be numb to the world around us and strive to focus on what is important to us. Our business. This becomes so evident in social media the way many companies continue to try to push out their messages, even during times of human tragedy.

There is very little evidence that companies who take this approach respect or even understand they are part of community. I know it is difficult sometimes to know when to pull back or not, so I wanted to open the conversation here, especially in the wake of these events. David Armano has written a good guide after the events at Sandy Hook, and I recommend that you keep that handy.

As I watched the events unfold yesterday, I followed discussions on Twitter and Facebook, as well as a variety of news sources. The challenge is these discussions were often broken up by social media ads touting how great these companies are. It seemed very inappropriate based on what was on my mind at the time. It became a real turn off to those brands.

As I was discussing this with some friends, some pushed back saying “bad events happen all over the world every day; where do you draw the line?” It is a valid comment and worthy of conversation. In my view you have to know your community on the social networking site.

Many businesses may have an international audience and they may not be following events in Boston as closely, so they may not care about the content you are sharing. At some point they may have a different event that does impact them deeply, and it is important for you to identify that as well. Always remember you are an invited guest within these social networks, and they can easily shut you out from the community, even with paid content. Unfortunately, I think brands have forgotten that over the years, and instead of serving the community they show how self serving they really are.

As we return to normal and you start posting content after a tragic event, it is also important to respect the minds of your audience. They may be more open to your posts, they still want to see your sensitive side regarding the recent event.

Earlier today Epicurious posted Tweets regarding Boston. The one started off perfect “Boston, our hearts are with you…” but then it went on to post a recipe for Cinnamon Scented Breakfast Quinoa. If this company thought about the mindset of their community, they would realize that they may see this as trying to capitalize on the tragedy instead of offering value to the community.

In the early days of social media, this was easy for us. First of all we knew the people behind every one of the businesses. We did not have automated tweets or scheduled posts. It was all about human interaction and touch. In some ways social has always been about this but for some reason we often forget that. During these tragic events, always think about that, and what is important to you. It will help guide you in making the best decision for your brand.

As I was writing this post, Scott Monty posted some thought on the events of yesterday. I would urge you to take a few minutes to review that as well.

Thank you again to all the heroes in Boston for helping to restore faith in humanity. My thoughts and prayers are dedicated to all those impacted by this event, and a wish that we could find a way to rid the world of such horrific acts. Thank you for being part of my community.


Are We, Social Media Professionals, Destroying Social Media?

Posted on : 27-02-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media


This post originally appeared on Social Media Today on February 27, 2013.  Click here to see the original post.

If you are hanging out at Social Media Today, you most likely have a vested interest in social media, often in a paid capacity working for brands or advising them in some sort of agency situation. Maybe you just are striving to learn more and build a career path involving social media. I hope this post can help challenge some beliefs or others may challenge mine, but either way it should be fun and a learning experience for everyone.

We are often advising brands to develop their content strategy and they ‘must’ do these things such as engage and be part of social media or they will be destroyed (or something similar). We have all drank the Kool Aid at times, but I have to wonder if our efforts are the ones destroying social media. I know you think social media will be around forever and will change the world. In many ways I do believe it will do both, but maybe not as we know it today. I have been watching trends that indicate less and less engagement by the masses in our typical social hang outs, such as Facebook and Twitter. Now there are many reasons for this, and not always indicative of efforts by brands. Often it is more an aspect to how Facebook shares content, or strives to have users pay to spread their message but it does not dimish the realities in our little world.

During the Super Bowl, Oreo did an amazing job with creating a real-time marketing message involving the outage at the stadium (you can read about it here). So that brings us to the Oscars.  In preparation for the real-time marketing efforts many people participated in a discussion using the hastag #OscarsRTM.  I watched this conversation as well as followed the Oscars by following #Oscars and Oscars in my Twitter search. By doing this I had the opportunity to see many interesting attempts by brands to be a part of the conversation. If you want a good recap of better attempts, check out this post on Hubspot.  But let’s face facts, none of these brand messages resonated with the audience like the Oreo spot a few week earlier.  Many of them felt like they were trying to just be the cool kid, like Oreo at the Superbowl.  Even Oreo felt that way to me.

Now the reason I love Twitter, it offers the best opportunity to meet new people and engage in conversations on topics of interest. To me it is all about the ability to search.  This is the way I have used Twitter since my first tweet in April, 2008 as @ComcastCares. We have all used it this way at one time or another.  How did you feel when you were at the conference and they displayed the tweat stream and trolls started messaging the hashtag?  What about when that happens during your Twitter chat? I have seen that happen during the #CustServ chats.

The reality is brands are becoming the trolls, or spammers (at least in the way they do it today), which over time will hurt these social networks causing people to find alternative places to track and participate in conversations. This is nothing new, since the same thing happened to email marketing. At first it was cool, but then when too many brands started bombarding us with messages we sought ways to simply block them out.

In my view we have to do our part to ensure success of these social networks, including helping the networks create the right user experience. I know our product leaders want to see their product front in center of social media, but if we chase people away, what good is it being front and center?

As social media leaders we have to help our brands better understand what it is like to be a member of a community and how to add to it as opposed to detracting from it.  This is often a fine line, and difficult to decipher. As an example Oreo during the Super Bowl was unique and unexpected, but during the Oscars they were one of many doing similar content. At best the Oscars content was just noise, but I bet some felt they were being spammed.

I for one love to be able to use Twitter search to add value in my life, just like my Facebook stream is best when filled with my family and friends talking about what is important in their life. Anything that interferes with that hurts my experience as a user. I think the best brands will find ways to encourage others to talk about their brand as opposed to pushing some message that does not resonate with me. The key is making your product and experience do the talking for you and help facilitate your Customers to spread that message. Changes have to be made! What would you encourage brands to do differently?

Driving Listening to Be Part of Your Organizational DNA

Posted on : 05-02-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media, Technology


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on February 5, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Beth Comstock, CMO for GE had a great post regarding listening that inspired this follow up. When you are finished reviewing this, I urge you to read her post as well. I have never had the privilege to meet Beth, but her reputation as a leader is well respected. In fact when I was with Comcast I was approached by a GE headhunter about a social role with them. I was very interested in the opportunity to work with Beth, but within days of the first phone call,Comcastand GE announced the partnership for NBC Universal. I did not think it would be appropriate to further our talks. I have paid close attention to GE ever since; Beth and her team have been doing outstanding work leading GE.

Listening has been a favorite topic of mine throughout my career. It is something we all want to say we do well, yet often we struggle with actually doing it. I am sure my wife has accused me of not listening once or twice! Businesses like to send messages to their Customers stating they listen, yet I have seen little evidence that they do. Today we see surveys galore from virtually every larger business we deal with. I used to fill these surveys out religiously providing very direct positive and negative feedback. Have I ever heard back? Have I seen changes based on the feedback? The trouble with the way many companies approach these surveys is they look at overall numbers, with very little attention to the verbatims. If my feedback is so important, why wouldn’t you listen or acknowledge what I had to say?

Social media is a great example of how businesses struggle to listen. As I have studied companies social media efforts, I have seen many companies who like to say they listen but little evidence with how the company operates. This is very evident when you watch many companies who perform social media Customer Service. How often are they addressing identical problems over and over again. This lack of action sends the same message to me as not responding to survey comments. Of course Customer Service has been built on that same issue for years, so I am not sure why I would expect it to change.

Years ago (way more than I would like to admit) I was interviewing for my first management role in the financial services industry. The manager asked me what I thought the most important attribute of a leader was. I did not hesitate and said “listening.” In my view a leader will never have all the knowledge they need to make decisions. The key is listening to those in the know, including employees, business leaders, Customers, regulators and so many others. In my view information is power, but not in the way many people look at that statement. I do not need to hold all the information, but I do need to listen to all the information I have around me.

My background in business is within Customer operations. I have found that the best people in the service operations are also the best listeners. The reason this occurs is they deal with upset Customers every day and sometimes call after call. They are not listening to the cursing or yelling, but instead they go deeper to understand the reason for the frustration and strive to find a solution within their own toolbox. These skills are so relevant throughout the organization. The struggle for ops is they have not been able to get the right leaders in the organization to hear what the Customer is saying. The service employees, just like the Customers, struggle to be heard.

Leaders are often proud of their own accomplishments and they should be. I do wonder if this sometimes impedes their ability to listen. Could some leaders view listening as a sign of weakness? Possibly, but I think the reality is more that they think they are listening when in reality the proof points within the organization same differently. Of course there are many exceptions to this. For one, entrepreneurs have always been among the best listeners. They hear more than words and are then able to translate this into opportunity. We need to bring this same entrepreneurial spirit to all layers of business.

As I look across the various parts of the organization, I have found marketing and communication departments do an amazing job at telling the story of their successes. Since I now sit in marketing, I am often amazed at how well they tell the story of their piece of the business. This of course is probably because of the strengths that marketers bring to the table in telling the story of the brand. I think it is time we better connect these departments. Imagine marketing’s art of storytelling connected to the art of listening from the Customer operations department? Now that would be a powerful, game changing, combination. This would be a way to lead the story of the brand instead of trying to simply tell one.

Listening is so much more than words but with the right people working together we can make it part of the DNA of any organization!

Ryanair is a Remarkable Business

Posted on : 28-01-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on January 28, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

The Merriam-Webster Definition of Remarkable as
“worthy of being or likely to be noticed especially as being uncommon or extraordinary”

Companies everywhere are striving to win in social media, yet who is really winning? Often we strive to build business for the masses which results in making a brand very average. When we look at social media, the greatest success typically does not fall in the average category. I know many of you think of your brand as above average, but in reality how different are you from other companies out there? What do you like to discuss via social media? When you are mentioning brands is it because it was a regular experience or something that really created a desire to chat? Human nature is that we like to talk more about extremes than every day things. It is a way we strive to differentiate ourselves. I tend to talk about really great experiences or really poor ones.

Unfortunately for brands, poor experiences have become the norm. As I discuss in @YourService, businesses have often focused Customer Service on avoiding talking to you instead of building relationships with Customers. Thhe result is the revolt we have seen for brands in social media over the past few years. This is a trend I expect will grow exponentially over the coming years. This has lead to the creation of social Customer Service, which is presenting challenges because companies typically offer their best help through that channel, causing more people to bash the brand just to receive the help they need. The other challenge for brands is that they have often used marketing channnels to demonstrate to Customers how great they are at service, or their product, but in the past Customers had little recourse if this did not match their experience. Today Customers can just blast your brand in social media.

One such brand that is often blasted in social media is a European airline, Ryanair. If you are from the United States you may not be familiar with Ryanair. As a service guy, I am usually offended by some of the tactics they elect to take, such as the CEO calling a Customer stupid, or debating charging to use the bathroom. A number of months ago I saw a blog postsaying Ryanair needed to start offering social Customer Service because of all the negative discussions occuring regarding the brand. As you study the conversation it is most often people upset about fees. As a person who flies often, I can relate to those frustrated by the fees, but I am not Ryanair’s Customer and my perspective would be meaningless. Ryanair strives to be the low-cost airline. You pay the lowest price to get from point A to point B. If you want to print your boarding pass at the airport, there is a substantial fee. If you want to carry on luggage, that too has a fee. As the complaints pile up regarding their fee structure, the fact is that each one sends the message that the company wants people to know. This does not require social service, in fact I would say more than most companies, Ryanair knows who they are and their message in social media is right on target. They are remarkable, even if it is not a remark you and I would like to see, it fits them.

Companies want to win in the hearts and minds of their Customers. The challenge is that, up until now, their efforts have focused on pushing a message instead of a more holistic approach. Most companies list values or mission on their website, but as you look inside the organization those fluffy words are not lived up to. In the case of Ryanair, they know who they are and live it everyday. It comes through in everything from the fees they charge, to the quotes from the CEO, to the complaints online about their brand.

As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, in 2003 Seth Godin introduced us to the Purple Cow, explaining that in the future the key for brands is not striving to message the masses, but instead look to the extremes. Stated simply, we all see cows all the time and do not think to comment, but if you saw a purple cow, now that is something that is remarkable. Ryanair has their Purple Cow, does your brand?

This is part of a multiple part series with the initial post available on frankeliason.com

If You Do Not Know Me By Now…

Posted on : 05-11-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Marketing, Social Media, Technology


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on November 5, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

I can’t seem to get the song ‘You Don’t Know Me By Now” out of my head lately.   I am writing this in New Jersey shortly after Hurricane Sandy caused widespread destruction and has wreaked havoc for many of the great people within the New York/New Jersey community.   I am proud to watch the community come together and bring back a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.  I have also seen an amazing outpouring of support from many people especially via social media.  In some ways this has emphasized some of the great strengths that social media has.  The ability to connect people is amazing.

As the song goes on to say, “If you do not know me by now, you will never, never know me.”  This is so true of most companies I have seen during this crisis.  Each day I received spam emails telling me how great products were, but the reality is I do not care about your product.  I had more pressing things going on in life, such as the quest to have electric or help my fellow community members recover.  The companies already had enough information to make this judgment but oftentimes chose to ignore it because they felt their marketing information was too powerful to ignore, or they felt I would just ignore it if I were not interested.  Well I will not be ignoring it, but I will not be buying the product as well.  It was a message to me how these companies do not care about me, so I will not care about them.  Of course some companies did a better job.  Surprisingly I saw some of the best understanding from companies we often love to hate, such as banks, cable companies, and at least one utility company (there is another that I would leave on the bad list but that will be a conversation for another day).

This song has so many words that correlate to all types of relationships, especially the connection that we are seeing between businesses and Consumers in a socially connected world.  If you watch social conversations as much as I do, you have noticed that often Consumers, at times, are very negative toward brands.  Well “We’ve all got our funny moods” and this is a reflection of that.  Often this negativity is a reflection of that.  Always remember that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy.  This negativity exists because your Customers want you to see success.  The key is that they want the relationship to go both ways.  As the song says, “Just trust in me like I trust in you.”  Unfortunately this is not always part of our message to our Customer.  We like to dictate to them instead of inviting them to be a part of something special.

We often look toward social as a way to get our message out, but in reality our message is meaningless.  We send messages all the time to our Customers, and in social they can take the message to their audience.  Winning within social is simply reflecting your message through all touch points and then allowing your Customers to take that message to the broader public.  The challenge is that we have not always lived up to our end of the bargain, such as marketing messages that did not reflect the actual Customer experience.  Many companies like to say how great their Customer service is when in reality, at least when we need them, it is horrible.  Now is the time to change that.

In my book @YourService, I also talk about “Scalable Intimacy,” which in my mind is more pertinent than ever.  Throughout the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, anyone could have followed what I stated in social media, and they could have easily known what was important to me, yet no company was able to correlate that to their marketing messages.  It is really sad, especially because we have discussed the importance of listening in social for years, yet very few brands actually do it well.

So my message to businesses looking to bring social to scale, which can also be found in the song:, is as follows “Just get yourself together or might as well say goodbye.  What good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”

The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airlines

Posted on : 05-05-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Leadership, Marketing, Social Media

Tags: , ,


The past few weeks have been fascinating for me, watching Spirit Airlines and the latest Customer blow up to take over the internet.  In my book, @YourService, I talk about Customer gaining more and more control over your brand.  Ever since the days of Dell Hell & Comcast Must Die, Customers have been realizing this new found power.  Some of my favorite blow ups over the past year have been the Bank of America debit card fee fiasco, Netflix/Qwikster, and the Verizon payment fee.  Each of these examples are learning opportunities for businesses.  Spirit Airlines offers probably the greatest learning of them all.  So let’s take a quick look at each one.

  • Bank of America Debit Card Fee Fiasco – Timing is everything, and for BoA the timing was simply horrible.  At the time banks were viewed at an all time low.  The overwhelming opinion was they were money grubbing institutions that did not care for their Customers at all.  As you probably are also aware, government regulations on fees, and very low interest rates were making it difficult for banks to increase profitability while maintaining proper reserves.  Therefore banks started looking for new ways to make up the lost revenue.  Debit card fees made sense to many, since much of the fees lost were related to debit card purchases.  BoA should have done more Consumer research before introducing the possibility of such a fee.  They would have found that this particular fee very much angered their Customers, and Customers of other banks because they fear all banks would follow suit.  Bank of America should have also talked more openly about the impact regulations would have on the bank and in particular, Customers.  The challenge is the general population does not understand how banks make money, and the impact changes may cause.  Stated simply banks were not trusted.  The worst part about BoA handling of this situation was they defended it extensively, which pitted the company against their Customers.  Brian Moynihan, CEO of BoA even stated during the fiasco, that they have an “inherent right” to a “certain amount of profit.”  The fact is this showed the general population that the leader was out of touch with Customers and potential Customers.
  • Netflix/Qwikster – I am a Netflix streaming Customer, and love it!  I should say my kids love it (I do not get to watch my shows often).  Netflix to many has seemed like the savior for continually increasing cable bills, and the best part is that it was cheap!  You could easily use their streaming service and DVD by mail service at a very low rate of $9.99 a month.  In July of 2011 the company announced they were changing the plans.  Basically they were separating out the DVD by mail service and streaming.  For Customers who continue to use both, the rate would go up to $15.98 a month.  Given the cost to process items by mail as well as increased licensing cost for programming, this new rate could be justified.  It would also guide more people to streaming which certainly is cheaper for the company to process.  Of course that is not how the Customer viewed this change.  Customers saw a company they viewed as different then the cable company, increasing fees at an even higher percentage than the cable company.  Netflix immediately went from trusted disruptor to untrusted money grubber, just like cable.  In September Netflix announced that their intention with the fee hike was to separate the DVD by mail business from streaming and create a separate entity called Qwikster for DVD’s.  Netflix would just be streaming.  This set off a whole new firestorm.  Netflix failed to estimate the ramifications this would have for Customers and the way they shopped for their entertainment.  Needless to say a month later Netflix backed down on the Qwikster idea, but the fees stayed at $15.98 a month. After losing subscribers, Netflix is growing again, but through this, the trust level is not the same as it once was.
  • Verizon Payment Fee – Often companies try to send bad news out during slow news cycles, such as weekend or holiday weeks.  On December 29 Verizon issues a press release “Customers Encouraged to Use Options to Avoid Single Payment Fee That Starts Jan. 15.”  Besides being bad spin, the press release outlined a new $2 convenience fee for making payments.  Within 24 hours the net was filled with discussion about the fee.  The next day Verizon came back to reinforce the decision on the fee and clarify that the online chatter will not change their mind.  Of course the FCC was listening to the online chatter too! By 3:00 in the afternoon the FCC stated they would investigate the fee.  Almost immediately after that announcement, Verizon changed their mind regarding the fee.

These incidents prove that Customers are forcing change in companies!  The most recent incident involves the spunky good ole boys of Spirit Airlines.  I was shocked to notice that the company’s board of directors and leadership team appear to be all men.  Of course that has nothing to do with it, but maybe their lack of diversity and thought process is part of their problem.  That is not for me to decide, but certainly others can form their own view.  Spirit airlines has never shied away from controversy.  Over the years they have been accused misleading advertising, including this incident involving tweets, inappropriate advertising like the ‘threesome fares’ and ‘M.I.L.F Sale’ (no wonder women do not appear to be part of the company’s leadership or board!), and they even tried to spin government disclosure requirements to be about hiding taxes.  This ‘Animal House’ of airlines has been making a name for themselves in recent years, including making a nice profit thanks to add on fees, but I know it is a reputation I would never want to be part of.

As I discuss in my book @YourService, social media simply highlights the culture of the company that already exists.  In this case social media is highlighting the frat house style culture of this airline.  Over the years they have tried to spin it that they are ‘Customer friendly,’ including going on how carry on fees are a Customer benefit.  Spin is never a good approach, but it still shows you for who you are, because Customers are smart and can easily see through it.  There are two major issues impacting the brand over the past few weeks.  The major incident involves 76 year old, Vietnam vet, Jerry Meekins who is dying of esophageal cancer.  He no longer was permitted to fly by doctor’s order, and he requested a refund.  The airline responded that they would not be able to refund the money because he did not purchase the $14 insurance.  This is not the first incident like this, as you can see from this Consumerist post.  Of course this heartless approach does not fit with the spin they have historically provided indicating they are a Customer friendly airline.  Remember social media, simply displays the culture of your brand!  Spin no longer matters.  The company had numerous opportunities to quietly make an exception, and we would have never heard about Mr. Meekins, but the company decided to take the hardline approach.  As word spread regarding Mr. Meekins, the social media in conjunction with traditional media started to heat up about Spirit Airlines.  The company continued with their posture.  In fact CEO Ben Baldanza called into Fox News to discuss this.  Of course Fox brought up the fact that Spirit Airlines is leading, by more than double, in Customer complaints to the US Department of Transportation.  Mr. Baldanza was not horrified by this fact, but simply spun this further to indicate most Customers were happy.  I have never met a CEO that would not be horrified to be leading in complaints.  I agree number of complaints does not mean anything, unless you understand the details of those complaints.  It is still indicative that this airline is not living up to the spin they would like us to believe.  In my view, it showed that Mr. Baldanza is completely out of touch.

There are a few approaches you can take when dealing with incidents like this.  You can either try to quietly handle it (make it go away as I like to say) or you can be firm in your approach.  It would appear that the later was the direction Spirit wanted to take.  If you are going that direction, it is imperative that you explain why and clearly outline the benefit to all your Customers.  As an example, Spirit could have said that we strive to be the low cost airline, and to that effort we would not be able to make exceptions to this but we would like to find solutions, such as transfer the ticket to Mr. Meekins daughter so she could visit.  The next options could have been, once it reached the CEO and the publicity, Mr. Baldanza could have offered to refund the money out of his own pocket.  This way it would not be changing the rules but would have still made him out to be the good guy.  Spirit did not take any of these approaches.  Instead they took the hardline approach, but 24 hours after the Fox News piece, Mr. Baldanza issues a statement that they would now refund the money as well as donate to a cause close to Mr. Meekins.  Backing down, after the CEO took such a hardline stand in a public form, was probably not the right choice.  The negative brand hit was already there and this new gesture would not change that.  Of course it does reemphasize that we are now in an @YourService world!  This experience, which started as a simple Customer Service call, will be very altering for Spirit Airlines, and I would expect many dramatic changes over the course of the next year, including in the CEO position.  The Good ole boys may be moving out of the frat house!

This is not the only incident going on with Spirit Airline right now.  The social web is also enraged over a fare increase changing carry on bags to $100.  So even resolving the issue for Mr. Meekins does not change the discussion of the fee change.  Spirit has been a leader in the airline industry, at least when implementing new fees.  They led the way in checked baggage fees, boarding pass printing fees, carry on fees, and others.  They have not led the way regarding proper disclosure of fees.   I would guess this is one of the reasons for complaints regarding the airline.  It is also the reason they are not trusted at all, and these incidents will not help build that trust.  Any increase in fees will create a backlash in social media, but the key is how you discuss them.  Will fares go down due to the cost structure shift or service go up?  Spirit could have had good talking points if done properly.  In fact, I do believe they have seen fares go down, while fees went up.  They need to first embrace what they want to be.  If that is being the lowest cost provider, then fully embrace it with no spin.  They need to outline their fares compared to full service competitors in an open way.  So show fare, with carry on (paid online at time of ticket purchase) compared to multiple competitors for the same flight.  Then also show the same comparison with different options, such as paying for carry on at the time of boarding.  Spirit Airlines has failed to partner with their Customer to create the right experience for both the Customer and the company.  As complaint data indicates the company may be making a short term profit, but at the rate they are going, they will not be in business soon, unless they have dramatic changes.  These blow ups in social and traditional media do tend to force dramatic change, and I expect that will happen here.  Best of luck Spirit and Mr. Baldanza!

The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airline!

Board of Directors (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Bill Franke, Chairman – Managing Partner of Indigo Private Equity, NewBridge Private Equity

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO – Spirit Airlines

David Elkins – Retired President & Co-CEO of Sterling Chemicals

H. McIntyre Gardner – Retired Head of Americas Region & Global Back Group, Global Private Client for Merrill Lynch

Robert Johnson – Retired CEO of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise

Barclay Jones III – Executive Vice President of Investments for iStar Financial Inc

Jordan Kruse – Managing Director Oaktree Capital Management

Stuart Oran – Managing Member of Roxbury Capital Group, former senior executive at United Airlines

Horacia Scapparone – CEO Bristol Group

John Wilson – Principal of Indigo Group

Management Team (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO

Barry Biffle, Executive VP & CMO

Thomas Canfield, Senior VP & General Counsel

Ted Christie, Senior VP & CFO

Tony Lefebvre, Senior VP & COO

Jim Lynde, Senior VP Human Resources

Guy Borowski, VP Technical Operations

Jake Filene, VP Airport Services

Joseph Houghton, VP Flight Operations

Craig Maccubbin, VP & CIO

Edmundo Miranda, VP & Controller

Graham Parker, VP Pricing & Revenue Management

Charlie Rue, VP Financial Planning

Are We Creating the Age of Me?

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



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.

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.

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Good Service?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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