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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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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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Remarkable Experiences: Is Your Brand Shareworthy?

Posted on : 28-01-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Inspirational, Leadership, Personal, Social Media

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

In 2003 Seth Godin introduced us to the Purple Cow, explaining 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.

People are striving to get their brands noticed through all types of channels, especially social media, but in this day and age it is not as much about the content of the brand, but the willingness of regular people like you or I to discuss the brand. The challenge is most larger brands have sought to go after the mass market. Oftentimes this results in brands being average, or not very differentiated from other competitors. They are not remarkable in any way. This is why I believe larger brands will often struggle in an age where we are bombarded with messages from everywhere, and we are going to filter the message that most resonate with us. These messages are often found not from the brands, but with people we relate to and trust.

Now I would like to ask how you personally use social media? What brands do you like to discuss? For me, I like to talk about experiences that I consider amazing, or, more often than not, poor. This is why I wrote my book @YourService. For years companies have told us how great their service was, but reality proved to us differently. Now that we control the brand message, we will and have, set the record straight regarding our experiences with products, especially when that experience is at one of the extremes.

I have often said that a social world is a better fit for small and mid size businesses. This is because these businesses are often nimble and hungry to win. It is also because they tend to be the best suited for a relationship driven world, which to me is what social media is all about. This past weekend I had witnessed this in action and wanted to share the experience here. The story starts when I moved into my house a year and a half ago. At the time I knew I needed to replace the stove and ventilation system in the kitchen. I have put it off as long as I could but now it must be done. The challenge for me is the remaining appliances are not in need of replacement, in fact they look relatively new. I know in the future, I would love to upgrade all of them, but as you know that can be a costly undertaking. Over the past month I started shopping around trying to figure out what I may want and what the best long term approach was. At first I priced replacing all the appliances with what I would love to own, but that was not going to work out. I then decided I would try to find a middle ground and find something inexpensive, but something I could build on in the future. I did all my homework, even finding great prices online. In doing this, I noticed one of the appliance stores I already visited, Mrs. G’s in Lawrencville, NJ, had some floor models on clearance, which would help keep costs down yet possibly provide something worth building on in the future. I went to the store to compare the floor model item to a few other brands I was considering. When I arrived I was immediately greeted by a few people offering to point me in the right direction. The kind woman offered to set up our kids with coloring books while we looked at the items. If you have ever shopped for appliances with kids, you know exactly how pleasing this action was. She was also kind enough to help connect me with the salesman I spoke to the other day.

As my kid were coloring, and being offered cookies and candy, my wife and I looked over the appliances, hopefully narrowing our direction to one model. I mentioned to the salesman what we were considering and I asked about the floor model for the higher end brand that I saw online. Unfortunately the model we saw online was no longer available. I told him if we went that direction we would probably then buy online due to a cheaper price I found. We then went to look at the other models we were considering. As we continued to chat he understood my concern at spending too much money, especially if we decided to redo all the appliances in a few years. This was the top reason for our reluctance to buy sooner. I think we were hoping another appliance would go, forcing a decision. Anyway, he then suggested looking at a completely different type of cooktop that would be a little cheaper yet have a very nice look no matter the other appliances present. This new option turned out to be the ideal option for us. As we spoke he suggested looking at two, one of which had a floor model available at a very good rate. What a great solution to our problem. We were able to get great products but at a price that we would not be upset if we had to make changes in a few years. I am so thrilled by it.

What made this situation remarkable were a few key points:

  1. Listening – The salesperson was listening not just to the words I stated but also understanding the overall situation. This placed him in a position to point out alternatives that would meet all my needs. Listening is not about hearing words, but truly building an understanding. Unfortunately most companies say they listen but the reality is they do not understand what is being said
  2. Valuing My Time – I already spent a great deal of time on this effort and really wanted to bring it to a conclusion and this transaction was completed very quickly
  3. Winning with my Kids – My willingness to spend time on a transaction really depends on how the kids are during my time there.
  4. Culture – When I visit a store I love watching all the employees and how they interact with each other and Customers. I noticed this from the first greeting, to the leader and founder’s granddaughter, Ms Debbie, Schaeffer taking our kids to color at one of the desks, to watching the other Customer interactions and even joking among the staff. My favorite moment was when one of their support team members came to me asking if he could give the girls cookies and milk. Every person in the organization seemed to understand the new relationship world we are in.

Thank you Mrs.G’s and congratulations on your success. It is obvious to see why! This experience was remarkable to me and I look forward to continuing to build the relationship with you!  Mrs. G’s created an experience that was shareworthy.  How often does your brand?  Social media is so much more than marketing, PR or branding and now businesses are starting to understand that.  What brands have you found to be remarkable?

Now this does not mean every company should strive to use service as a way to be remarkable, in fact over on LinkedIn I posted about another brand who takes the exact opposite approach, yet they too are remarkable and shareworthy!

Moving Forward! Enjoying the Ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Beginnings

Posted on : 03-08-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal

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If you are like me, you like to think of a new job as a new beginning. This is not to say anything negative about prior experiences, but it is a time where you learn so much, meet new friends, and combine this new found knowledge with those that built up in the past. Yesterday was my first day at Citi, and my mind is still spinning. This is not a bad thing, it is just reality. I spent the day listening and absorbing. I would expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. I have watched others transition jobs and they take a bulldozer mentality into the new position as a way to prove their worth. This to me is so backwards. I know people are hired to bring their skills and knowledge to help a company, but as the new guy, it is important to recognize that many in the place have even more skills and knowledge and together you can change the world.

I have been realizing over the past few weeks that we need to change the culture of leaders that organizations value. I am not sure how to do it, other than show it, but I have a feeling the millennial generation will make sure this change occurs. Community is not only important in social media, but it is important in many ways in the workplace. While I was at Comcast It was very important for me to build that sense of community with my teams, and I will strive to continue to do that. This does not mean being a push over, because that I am not. I can and will make firm decisions when necessary, but that is not leadership. Leadership is guiding others and creating this bond that moves the needle.

I have also read where people wonder if I can continue to build on the success from Comcast, or as one person put it, find out if I am a one hit wonder. I never viewed anything I have done as a hit. My teams are the ones who gain that credit. This was true at Comcast, in the same manner it was true (in a less public way) at my prior company, Advanta. In both places my teams, and those around me helped bring change to the organizations. I know based on the team at Citi, we will see that same success due to their abilities.

I am still a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size and diversity of Citi. I work with a lot of smart people and I know they will help me navigate the waters (and rapids). As we move forward I will listen, ask questions (my Comcast teams have many stories about my questions), and show the world the people who have always made Citibank a great brand.

Having Someone in An Exit Row on a Plane is Not an FAA Requirement

Posted on : 07-04-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Personal

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I am not an expert when it comes to travel, or flying a plane. I am a Customer asking questions. I had an interesting conversation with another passenger on a United flight from Philadelphia to Denver. We were discussing fees and the airline industry. She flies a few times a month between Philadelphia and Burbank, CA. I too fly multiple times a month. It was an interesting conversation. We were both sitting in aisle 17, just behind the 2 middle exit row seats on a 757.

If you sit in an exit row, there are typical questions that are asked if you want to sit there. Here are the questions, with the answers provided by individuals sitting in the 2 rows on our flight:

  1. Are you willing to assist on an evacuation?
  2. Are you under 15 years of age?
  3. Are you an adult traveling with a child under 15 years of age or another passenger who requires your care? NOTE: The passenger will not qualify, if these passenger types are seated anywhere on the aircraft.
  4. Do you lack mobility, strength and dexterity in both arms, both hands and/or both legs to: quickly reach the exit, remove any obstructions, manipulate the exit door and slide mechanisms or lift out a window exit door, exit the aircraft, or assist others in exiting?
  5. Do you lack visual capacity or require corrective aids beyond eyeglasses/contact lenses?
  6. Do you require assistance beyond a hearing aid to hear and understand verbal instructions?
  7. Are you limited in your ability to read and understand printed/graphic instructions related to exist, an aircraft evacuation or the ability to understand crew members commands?
  8. Do you have a condition that might prevent you or injure you while performing evacuation functions?

Oh wait, I was not able to provide the responses, because no one was sitting in either emergency exit row. The flight was not empty. In fact it looked fairly full to me, except these 2 aisles. There was 1 man in the exit row, but prior to take off, around the time these questions would normally be asked, 2 things happened. First they came on the loud speaker offering for someone to purchase the extra leg room within these seats. Nobody jumped at that opportunity. Then a crew member came over to the only man in the exit row and asked if he was a former United employee. He responded yes, he was retired. The crew member insisted that he move up to first class. To his credit, he was reluctant, but then he moved on. At this point now nobody was in the exit rows.

We were stunned that no one would be in the exit row. We were expecting they would ask some people to move, but no request came. This led to the conversation about safety and the various fees assessed by airlines. We first started to talk about the ever popular baggage fee. Have you noticed there are usually very few bags checked on a plane anymore? The fee encourages you to bring it on board. Of course this makes the boarding process longer, especially on very full flights. My favorite is when they have to “courtesy” check the bags due to the overheads being full. They always make sure you know it is a courtesy. The passenger I was with also wondered if the increased bags on the plan cause accidents as items shift while in flight. I did not know the answer, because I can only think of one time I saw an accident like that, and I am not sure baggage fees existed at the time. We discussed this, boarding process trouble, and even differences in weight distribution. Of course we both admitted not being experts in any way, just talking about Customer perceptions.

Now back to the exit row seats. We wondered what the FAA rules regarding emergency exit seating were. The woman asked a crew member in the back of the plane. The crew member told her that the FAA does not have a requirement for exit row seating. When the woman asked what would happen in an emergency, and the crew member explained that it would be the flight crew’s responsibility. This really had me thinking!

When the plane landed, I had a layover for a few hours, so I sat down and started to read more on the topic. I searched the FAA website as well as Google to find out more on the rules for emergency exit row seating. I was not able to find any rules that stated someone had to be seated there. The only rule I was able to find was the door must be able to be opened within 10 seconds, and the slide must deploy within 10 more seconds. I did not have a chance to test but I think it could be hard for a crew member to unbuckle, get there from one end of the plane to the exit row, and have it fully opened within 10 seconds. The other trouble with not having people in the aisle is other passengers may not know who is responsible, causing hesitation in the event of an emergency.  They would then have to unbuckle and work their way to the emergency row.  Also it is possible that someone not able to meet the requirements of the emergency row would be the closest to perform the task.  That makes me feel safe!

The airline industry has struggled in recent years due to changes in travel, low cost airlines, increased fuel costs and so many other factors. We all like to blast companies when they add new fees. At the same time, no one wants to see companies go into bankruptcy or worse, go out of business. It means loss of jobs and less selection. The trouble for many older airlines is they have high labor costs, and inefficient processes. Southwest, an airline that prides itself on not having as many fees has added things like early check-in, or business class (I forget the name, but they get to be one of the first 15 people to board – ideal since they do not have assigned seating). Maybe we can all help find ways with ideas to improve?

I do think this changes the game for the FAA. The emergency exit row seating policies were designed in 1990. At the time there was rarely, if ever, a shortage of people that wanted the exit row. No one could have ever thought of fees for sitting there. With fees, comes the basic rules of supply and demand; as the price goes up, demand goes down. What happens when there is no demand?

I did ask United if they were interested in commenting for this piece, but as of this point I have not seen a response. I will post an update if I hear from the FAA or United.

For Background, here is a NY Times piece by Joe Sharkey “Throwing Exit-Row Seats Into the ‘For Sale Bin

Other stories on airline fees from the Consumerist:

Ryanair Going Ahead With Pay-To-Potty Plan

Spirit Airlines Now Charging Up To $45 For Carry On Bags

Inspiring New Thoughts

Posted on : 29-03-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Inspirational, Personal, Social Media

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I have not been posting as much as I like. This usually happens when I am in deep thought regarding some things, and I do not feel it is best to share publicly. I have always found this to be tough because I try to be as transparent as I can be, but it is necessary. I always feel bad when that happens, because I do not want to let people down. I also feel that I am missing out on really good advice that I can receive from my friends in social media. Ultimately I always strive to do what is best for myself, my friends and most importantly my family.

So recently I was at my first SxSW (for those not used to the abbreviation, it is South By Southwest, an Interactive, Film and Music event in Austin, TX). It was an experience. I was excited at the opportunity to see some friends I have developed over the past few years, but I did not realize how overwhelming the events would be. I saw so many people, but it is funny, at the same time I feel I saw no one at all. Everyone was rushing from one event to another. There was not much time to slow down. When I finally returned home, I think I needed sleep for a week (I am still not sure I have my energy back). I did return to work the day after coming home, so that may explain the lack of energy. Anyway it was still a lot of fun and I loved seeing some old friends and many new friends.

While I was in Austin, I spoke on 2 different panels and at an event for Dachis Group. One of the panels was for the book launch for Brian Solis’ new book Engage. It was fun to be a part of that. The other was a panel for support in a 140 character world with Jeremiah Owyang, Caroline McCarthy, Lois Townsend and Toby Richards. It is always a pleasure to speak with so many knowledgeable people. My favorite moment at SxSW was not in a panel, or other presentation. It was not at a party, or at a dinner (all though many were fun, especially going to Salt Lick), it was the unlikely private time with just a few people. On my final night in Austin I was heading to a dinner I was invited to. When I arrived I ran into Brian Solis (Follow these links to connect with him on Twitter and his Blog) outside the restaurant. We started chatting, ran into a few others, and shared some champagne (for those that know Brian, that is not shocking). We then realized the dinner we were supposed to be attending was happening without us, so we stopped by. We did not stay too long due to other commitments Brian had. We then strolled through the streets of Austin on our way to his other event. After that appearance we connected again, this time strolling through the now rainy streets looking for a nice quiet place for dinner. Brian was his usual inspiring self. We were chatting about life paths, and selections we all make along the way. Brian was filled with stories from his own life, as well as people like Chris Brogan. At the time I thought my plans were set, but I walked away rethinking my thoughts and the inspiration in my heart. This is really what social media is about, connecting with people who can change our lives. We do it each day but it is moments like that where it is so truly defined. Thanks Brian.

So in my absence I have had so many different things I wanted to chat about. First and foremost was how I have been rethinking CRM (for those that do not know, this is Customer Relationship Management). This is a way of using technology to understand your Customer and bring the Customer into every aspect of the business. This led to my post today on The Social Customer website. If you have the chance, check it out. The post is the beginning of a conversation on redefining the tools necessary and the culture required for Customer Service, now and in the future.  It is time for us to stop looking at past concepts and build new ones based on the reality of today.

During my absence from posts there was an interesting social media case study developing regarding Nestlé and GreenPeace.  I am not going to rehash all the details, but if you want, read about it on Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategist blog.  It was also in today’s Wall Street Journal in an article titled “Nestlé Takes a Beating on Social-Media Sites.”  As I read the article this morning, I was caught by the end where Jermiah did not support removing it, while Ian Schafer did support it.  I can see both sides, although I think removing it might cause Nestle to even prolong it more (I am taking my ball and going home).  But it also caused me to rethink how companies should utilize Facebook.  So many are rushing to create fan pages, often because others told them they had to, or success they have seen for other companies.  Experts will tell you, as Jeremiah points out in his blog post, you must have an action plan to deal with brand attacks that may occur.  It is the reason to think these things through thoroughly.  But as I have read through the Nestlé experience, I wonder if there was a better way in the first place.  I know those not connected to social media may not realize, but there have been other events in the past for this company that also played out in social media.  My favorite story regarding Facebook fan pages is how the Coca Cola fan page started.  It was not started by the company, but instead by fans.  I am not convinced it is the best interest for companies to say how much they are loved by creating their own fan page.  It seems so much more genuine when it is created by fans.  I then think about the Nestlé experience, and wonder how would it have changed if the fans were the ones that started the page?  Would Greenpeace have still attacked the page?

Everyday we are filled with ideas that change our direction, or inspire us to do more.  I hope to always be inspired each day and continually challenge the status quo.

So Why is @ComcastCares Also @TimetobeFrank?

Posted on : 20-03-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal

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For those that have known me over the past few years, they were surprised when I added a second Twitter name, @TimetobeFrank.  I have been asked by a number of people the reason for the change, and I felt I would explain it here.  I have always spoken about the need to personalize business in a space like Twitter.  That is one of the many reasons my team at Comcast has their own Twitter user names.  It is also why you see my picture and blog information on my @ComcastCares Twitter account.  I have also said many times that if I had another account, I would still be representing my employer, so there was no reason to make the change.  So what happened?  A number of things, but most prevalent was discussions with people that wanted to hear my thoughts, but because they were not Comcast Customers, they were not interested in following @ComcastCares.  This is an easy way to accommodate that.  There have also been times where I was not in a position to assist Customers (such as being out) but I wanted to tweet something interesting.  I can now do that.

This in no way changes my view that social media is a relationship driven medium that is about personal connections.  This change is really a means to further that.  There will be many times I will tweet the same personal thoughts through both Twitter accounts.

It has been an interesting experience.  The opportunity to see the process as a new Twitter user was much improved since the last time I went through that.  I was able to see more efforts to prevent spam then I thought were happening.  It was good to see.  It is fun reviewing the stream of tweets from fewer people I am following.  This is something I have not done in a long time due to the sheer quantity.  At the same time I would like to build my followers up on this account so I can have even broader conversations about Customer Service in business today and into the future.  I have also realized it is hard to manage multiple Twitter accounts, even with the tools that are currently available.  It will take some getting used to.  I hope this provides clarification.

See you on Twitter!

A Griswold Disney Vacation

Posted on : 20-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Holiday, Personal

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During the past 2 years I have not taken a true vacation with my family.  During that time our daughter Robyn was born, and I have been busy with work.  Most vacation days were spent at home with sick children and in many cases working too.  I have realized that it is important for all of us to take breaks at times and re-energize ourselves.  We have good friends from England vacationing in Florida during the month of December.  We couldn’t wait to see them!  A car trip to Florida, seemed like an excellent alternative to traveling to Europe.  Hey, we could even visit Disney!  This was a last minute trip, but the stars seemed to align for a great vacation.  I needed a break and with all the travel recently it was good to spend time with the family.

Like a good father, I prepared for the vacation.  Since we were driving down, I picked up a DVD player for the car.  I also purchased a new GPS map system as ours was stolen from my car in a Philadelphia parking garage not long ago.  For my sanity, I also invested in satellite radio.  Unlike the movie Vacation, I did not pick up a new car, but our Volvo wagon, which we affectionately call the Family Truckster, seemed to be in good shape.  On Friday evening I took the dog to my parents and started to pack the car.  This was not our first drive to Florida, so we knew what we needed.  Early Saturday morning we finished packing the car and loaded the kids.  Now it was time for a nice relaxing 1024 mile journey to Orlando.  Our first stop was to the Christiana Mall Disney store to purchase tickets (we were told purchasing tickets at the Disney store was best approach and this store was in Delaware so it would be tax free).  This first leg of the trip was smooth as can be.  We went into the Disney store and found that we could only purchase tickets for 3 days or more.  We only planned on spending 2 days in the parks since we have a 1 year old (almost 2) and a 3 year old.  If they were older we may have planned more.  So that was a waste of a trip, but it was a quick bathroom break and a snack.  The journey continued!

Driving with a potty trained 3 year old is so much fun!  At first she did not want to use potties on the road, but as the drive continued she started a quest to visit every McDonald’s bathroom along the east coast.  Every 50 miles or less I would hear “I HAVE TO GO POTTY!”  This was getting old really fast.  I could not wait for everyone to fall asleep.  We stopped at a Cracker Barrel along the way for dinner, then they started to sleep.  Actually it was funny Lily yelled the infamous “I have to go potty,” and by the time I turned around she was asleep.  I was not waking a 3 year old, so the trip continued.

I drove through Georgia, with everyone asleep most of the time.  At one point I had to pull over to give my eyes a rest.  There is a large construction zone on interstate 95 that has a lot of these yellow squares lining the way.  They should have chosen another color, because after driving since 8:30 in the morning (now it was around 11:00 PM), it was very psychedelic.  I felt like I was in a weird late 60′s movie.  I finally made it through that, and began looking for a place to spend the night.  It was at that time it started to pour rain.  So instead I kept driving until it slowed down a bit and I would not have to carry the girls in the rain.  Finally, just over the Florida border, I pulled over to a hotel.  At this time it was around 1:00 AM and kids were sleeping for about 4 hours.  In retrospect, it was probably not the best idea to stop at a hotel and wake them.  This was their first stay in a hotel.  It was also late so I did not ask for a crib for the 1 year old.  We decided it was best to separate them and have Carolyn sleep with Lily and I slept with Robyn.  Neither of them were tired anymore.  In fact they were wide awake and kept each other energized.  I did not get much sleep that night.  The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to Jacksonville Beach to visit Carolyn’s sister.

We had a nice visit with Carolyn’s sister and seeing her new house.  It was great because it was 2 blocks from the beach and the work they have done was starting to show.  We walked down to the beach, which the kid’s loved.  Lily was having fun digging in the sand.  At one point she dug up a dead bird that was buried in the sand.  It was at that point we realized it was time to continue our journey to Orlando.  After a piece of homemade cake and a drink of Gatorade we were on the road again!

The trip to Orlando was uneventful.  We stopped for a much needed Starbucks fix for me and everyone else napped the whole way.  We arrived at our hotel, which was a Marriott Springhill Suites.  I was not expecting much, but it was free stay using the Marriott rewards I have earned over the years.  It turns out it was the perfect place for us.  They had a crib for Robyn, Lily was able to stay on the sofa that pulled out to a bed, and there was a king size bed for us.  The best part for traveling with a family is the room had a kitchenette, which was very useful.  The people were great too, but more on that later.  After we were settled in, we went to visit our friends from England.  They had a house nearby so we decided to get “Takeaway” (that is the term for takeout in England).   Steve and I went to search out a place to get takeout.  This required some driving around, but we found Outback Steakhouse, a place they liked when they visited us a few years ago.  While we were driving around the engine light came on.

We ate our meal and enjoyed conversation while the kids ran around.  Then one of the English boys came running out from the bedroom yelling that Robyn did a pooh in his bed.  We all looked a little stunned, then the other kids yelled “not pooh, sick!”  Well this was a way to close out the night.  Thankfully they had a washer and dryer in the home, so easily dealt with.  We then went back to our hotel.  The entire ride back was a discussion about the engine light, and if we should delay plans for the Disney park and have it fixed, or let it go until we went home.  The car seemed to be running fine.  We decided that I would take the family truckster to the nearest Volvo dealer in the morning to have them check it out.

I woke up on Monday morning and went to a Volvo dealer about 5 miles away.  They were accommodating and were willing to check it out.  Of course there is $100 fee just to check out the service engine light.  They did it while I waited, so I asked them to also do a oil, lube and filter, since it was due anyway.  It is boring waiting for a car to be done, so I was checking out new and used Volvo wagons.  I could not believe the cost, but we do like the safety.  In fact our truckster was hit when it was new, and it held up like no other car.  I debated the cost of buying a used one if the cost of repair was to much, but I can not seeing paying that much for a car, and now was not the time.  Anyway it turns out the light came on because the gas cap went bad.  Total bill $182, for oil change and gas cap.  So much for the cheap vacation.

After that we went to Magic Kingdom for a fun filled day.  We pulled up to the booth to pay for parking.  The booth was on the passenger side, so Carolyn lowered her window.  This is when we saw the strangest thing!  The window flipped side ways and went down on the right side with the left side sticking straight up in the air.  Ugh!  A car with a lot of electronics, we had to decide what to do.  I decided to park and see what can be done.  With the help of another visitor to Disney, we were able to get the window back up.  It was cracked in 6 places but did not appear to be all the way through.  So we carefully shut the door and went into the park for the day.

This was my second time to Disney, but nothing could compare to the trip we had with our Angel Gia (more about that here).  I did not realize how hard it was to see some of the characters.  Everyone we went up to was closed.  The worst was when we went to see Princess Tiana, the handler said nothing that she was going in (he was busy chatting with a girl) and the line area was not gated off.  We were waiting for a number of minutes with another family.  He then asked if we were together, and when we said no, he then said she is done.  It was very odd, and probably would have been better to ask us to be quick or start off with she was done (of course doing that after waiting about 10 minutes was wrong).  It is hard to explain to a 3 year old that the characters have to go in.  Lily was not bad, she was just sad.  Anyway it still turned out to be an a good day in the park.  The kids really enjoyed the rides (although we did get stuck due to mechanical difficulties on “It’s a Small World” – the song is still stuck in my head).  The best part for Lily was the parades.  It was her chance to see the characters.  We learned that she really liked the Princesses and not so much the ones with masks.

The next day we woke up and I immediately started my phone calls to Safelite auto glass to try to get the next repair done.  It turns out the Volvo has “special” glass and has to be special ordered through the dealer.  I called the dealer we were at the day before, but they did not have the part in stock.  So I decided we would drive home with the cracks and I contacted our local dealer to order the part and schedule an appointment for later in the week when we returned.  Of course the jingling of the glass made for an interesting ride, but the reason it was a special order part is because it is laminated, similar to the windshield, so the glass stayed together.  Now to the parks for day 2.

This time we went to Disney Studios.  The kids had a fun day.  They really liked the Ariel show as well as Beauty and the Beast.  In fact up until then, neither loved Beauty and the Beast, which was Gia’s favorite.  After that show I think it is theirs too.  The parade in Disney Studios was more of a block party and with the exception of Potato Head coming up too close to Lily they had a phenomenal time.  Lily and Robyn even went into the street to dance with the performers!  After the block party we headed over to Epcot.  This turned out to be a great decision.  There was no wait for any of the rides for the kids, so they enjoyed Figment, Nemo and a few others.  We enjoyed walking through the international pavilions.  We did continue to have trouble seeing the characters, but they did get to see Pooh and Tigger.  They were still scared of the big characters!  And thanks to the handler for a Princess Jasmine, who did say she was going in, but if you hurry you can catch Snow White.  We hurried and did just catch her.  Now it was 7:30 and we had 2 hungry and tired kids.  We decided to try to find a place in the park to eat.  As we reviewed the brochure we found a place in Norway where they had a Princess story time.  We went over to see if they had space.  The woman was nice and said if you come back at 8:35 they can see if they can fit us in.  At this point I really felt like Clark W. Griswold, and I was going to do whatever I could to get them in.  I went back at 8:10 and was told we would have to check in at 8:35.  This time I decided to campout and wait for the time to get it.

Well, like in the movie Vacation, we did get in.  The meal was simply magical and it made the trip.  Lily had a number of pictures with the Princesses and they experienced the similar Disney magic that Angel Gia had years before.

The next day we met our friends for lunch and then we began the trek home.  We drove the 17 hours straight, arriving the next morning by 8:00 AM.  In the end it was a great trip with a few unexpected car expenses.  The car went in on Friday and it needed the $500 window, another $500 part for the window, and while it was there it was inspected.  Add on brakes and routers, gas door hinge, wiper for one of the lights (not sure why they even have that) and the total bill was about $1800.  Add the $182 gas cap and we could have had a good down payment on a new or used Volvo.  But now we can plan on keeping our family truckster for a few more years.

Today is the end of our vacation and I had to dig out from the snowstorm, much different than the 80 degree weather in Florida.  The plan is a quiet day and maybe watching the Vacation movies.

Next up will be the Christmas Vacation!  Actually no more vacation time, and I do not see myself trying to track down a bonus, when my company does not do that this time of year.  So maybe instead we can enjoy a quiet holiday with no more unexpected expenses.  Happy holidays everyone!

Thankful for so Much

Posted on : 26-11-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal

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This year has been filled with mixed emotions for many of us.  The poor economy has really brought a sense of reality to many of us this past year.  As I look back I see many great things too and today is the time to remember them.  If life has shown me anything, everything is relative, and you can always find the bright side if you look hard enough.  For me the bright side has been how much closer I feel today to many old and new friends that I have connected with through places like Facebook and Twitter.  The world has become smaller and I love the ability to connect with these friends.

I am so thankful for my supportive family that has put up with me traveling and spending way too much time on the computer.  I am also thankful for all the supportive people that I have had the opportunity to work with, including the Customers that make my job even possible.  My team has been extremely incredible at creating a new way of interacting and learning from Customers, I love the opportunity to work with them every day.  I am still in shock over some of the attention we have received, and we will do everything we can to live up to our Customers who bestowed that one us.  I look forward to furthering the cause of Customers to all companies I interact with.

I want to wish all you and your families and incredible Thanksgiving!  Today is a day to spend with family and friends and celebrate all we have to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Land of the Misfit Toys

Posted on : 26-09-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Inspirational, Marketing, Personal, Social Media

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I tend not to post when I have a lot on my mind that I am trying to work through.  Sometimes it may be personal, other times work or even career.  In the past few years I have had a lot of new things happening in my life that cause me to ponder many things, especially about the future.  Recently I have been thinking about my own career path and what it all means.  Social media has added an interesting realm to my life and I am not going to say it hasn’t brought struggles too.  I strive to be as open as possible with things, but sometimes you have to come to conclusions on your own.

I love leading the way, whether it be with a team or a movement for Customer Service.  I never strive for the status quo, especially with work.  We all need to continually evolve our abilities and companies need to broaden their horizons to meet an ever changing Customer.  My style is not playing politics but instead concentrating on the Customer story and what is in front of me at the time.  Sometimes in doing this people that are close to the process work off of their own historical information.   I am lucky to work with many that have great experience in the cable and telecommunications industry; I learn a lot from them every day.  My background is financial services, which provides more of an outsider view.  Sometime this makes me feel like a misfit.

I talk to many businesses regarding their efforts in social media.  In fact I have been approached by many companies about helping them build their efforts.  Most companies channel their social media through marketing or PR.  It is funny the reaction I receive when I tell them that I am just a simple Customer Service guy.  The marketers tend to be so stuck on the brand and sales, so they do not always see the community and relationship aspects in the space.  I have many friends in marketing that have built a similar view as mine, but they are already successful in the space.  Some in PR concentrate on the message as opposed to the relationship.  My view is this space is about the Customers, helping, listening and having conversations with them.  So as I talk to these different companies I recognize what a misfit that I may be.

I then look at all my friends in social media and I realize how different we all are.  It is these differences that make social media such a great place and a way to hear others perspectives.  As I was sitting pondering recent events, my own place in life, and how we all connect, I started to realize we are all in this place of misfit toys creating a home for all to enjoy no matter who they are, what they have been through, or where they are heading.  Being this misfit is a trophy we all carry because we are leading and doing things in a different manner.  Whether we are doing this online, at work, or within our home life we are carving this new path.  The misfit toys have found their home with each other.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Posted on : 24-07-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Personal, Social Media

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I have tried to write this post numerous times and continue to get lost for words.  I will apologize ahead of time but I have been wanting to write this for a long time, but post it today.  With all the attempts to start it, I am just getting to the third sentence at 12:02 on Friday, 7/24.  Those that know me, they know July is an emotional time for me.  In fact I even snapped at one of my favorite leaders at work (I should call her today and have her read this).   Twitter has been a wild ride for me, and, for the most part, it has been an amazingly positive experience.  I can not believe all the friends I have made and all the people that have written about our work.  But that is such a small part of the overall story.  I am hoping this will show everyone the true power of social media and Twitter.

So as everyone knows I work for Comcast, a company that has been very good to me.  Since I started on Twitter there are many people who have started to understand the company a little better and may have an improved feeling toward the brand.  I want to take everyone back a little bit to last year.  I started on Twitter back in April, 2008.  With all the discussion of my help, I was working day and night.  I did not have others on Twitter until September or October.  Needless to say it was tough, but on July 26, 2008 I realized what all this hard work was all about.

It was not about PR or marketing, as some believed.  For me it was about helping people that needed assistance, but even I was proven wrong.  Late July is a unique time for me.  My soon to be 3 year old daughter, Lily, was born on July 25.  Last year we had a variety of different things going on, so the only day we could have a party was July 26.  I still can not believe that we had a party on the day, but we would have felt guilty if she did not have a party, which we did think about.  This is because our other daughter, Gia, passed away on July 26, 2004.  In many ways the party turned out to be a good thing, because we were so busy and focused on creating a good day for Lily that it made it much easier on us.  I will never forget the day for so many reasons, from the running around in the morning picking up cakes, balloons, beer, soda at all different places (having it all piled in the Prius must have been a funny thing to see) to the waiting when everyone arrives late after rushing to have it all prepared.  Anyway, the day went well and we were hanging with some neighbors after everyone left.  I swore I would not even look at Twitter that day.  We were sitting in the family room drinking and talking.  My Mac sits on the counter, and I was sitting on the bar stool, so I could not help myself.  I started glancing through my search and I started to notice some interesting tweets.  People responded to others that tweeted me.  Some told Twitter users to let me have my day, others offered suggestions to help, while others simply offered to help.  All I can say is I was touched, and to be honest amazed to see it.  This is when I realized what Twitter is really about.

I hear experts on social media talk about ways to market or how to build up your reputation, these types of thoughts are all wrong.  This is not about going out and posting all kind of links or driving people to other sites.  Twitter is about community and relationships, pure and simple!

I will probably not be around much this weekend, but now I have a team out there who are eager to help.  In fact they have asked me to turn it off this weekend (they even threatened to turn off my internet access).  I do want to take the time to thank them, but also the community of Twitter who over the past 15 months have been so good to me.  Thank you!