Thursday, July 9, 2009

David vs United Airlines: An Internet Lesson

If you have any doubt that the Internet changes the dynamics of "business as usual", take a moment to consider the case of Mr. Dave Carroll.

According to his side of the story, while flying United Airlines his guitar was broken. After 1 year of frustrated attempts to receive compensation for his loss he was told "No".

5 to 10 years ago that would have been the end of the story.

Not so today.

Dave Carroll told United Airlines that he was going to write 3 songs about the incident and produce videos for them for the whole world to see. Installment 1 was released 3 days ago.

In 3 days, "United Breaks Guitars" has been viewed over 700,000 times. My search for "United" brought his video up as the #3 result in Google. All within 3 days. Wow.

And of those 700,000 views (and who knows how many more to come), how many do you suppose will side with United? The next time you go to book a flight and see the name United, will you remember the catchy chorus to "United Breaks Guitars"? How much will that cost United in the end? Will it be more than just doing the right thing 12 months ago? Probably. Probably by a lot.

If your business has survived by dominating the voiceless consumer, or thrived due to lack of competition... times are changing.

On the other hand, if your business is based upon providing remarkable products or services delivered with class, never before has there been the opportunity for the news to spread like there is today.

So the next time you have a difficult interaction with a customer: Remember the story of David vs United. Then do the right thing.

Your Turn
What has been your experience? Have you seen first hand how the internet has changed the face of business?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2008: Is the Internet in your plan?

Technology goes through various phases of growth. As a new technology emerges, adoption involves a fair amount of risk. As the technology becomes more widely accepted, the risk to adopt moves towards zero. In fact, at some point the risk or liability associated with not adopting the technology becomes the larger concern.

Take the telephone as an example. When the telephone was first introduced it was no doubt expensive to get "connected". The potential business reward may also have been limited as few others had access to the technology. However, with the passage of time we know the telephone became globally adopted.

Is acquiring a phone number considered a business risk today? Quite the opposite. Where would your business be competitively if it did not have a phone number? What about electricity?

I'm not going to say the Internet has reached quite the same level of acceptance as the telephone or electricity, but it is moving ever closer to that end. We can safely say that nearly all of the people you do business with will have access to the Internet. Many of the people considering doing business with you will visit your website at some point during the sales process. Most of your customers would be able to take advantage of tools placed on your website to streamline your sales or service process.

So as you consider your business plans & budgets for 2008 - have you seriously considered the Internet? Are you competitively using this technology to reach out and engage with potential and existing customers?

Remember the "Internet" involves more than just a website. It can include email, blogging, instant messaging, e-commerce, on-line tools, on-line classes, voice & video conferencing, data transfer, etc.

I'd love to hear how you plan to more fully web-enable your business in 2008!!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Local News: MDC Blog Recommendation

It's not every day that local news is so tightly linked with the subject matter of this blog, so I'm going to jump on this opportunity.

Although this is based on events in Midland, TX it could have happened and equally applies to business in Any Town, USA.

DISCLAIMER: I live in Odessa, not Midland. I'm not familiar with the specific criticisms being made against the MDC. I'm not for or against them. I'm purely interested in the angle of technology impacting business.

Enter The Drama
According to the website of the Midland Development Corporation (MDC) their goal is to foster & encourage a healthy business & employment environment.

Apparently not everyone thinks they are doing a good job. Are they? Well that is irrelevant to the point of this post.

The related issue is that some of those who disagree with the MDC are people who publish their thoughts to the world through a blog.

According to the article by Colin Guy at the Midland Reporter-Telegram today (Nov 17, 2007) , John Roberts of TIPS Strategies Inc., one of the consultants hired by the MDC to help them develop a "strategic plan" noted:

...companies and prospective employees considering relocating to Midland likely are to come across these blogs when researching the city online...

I couldn't agree more. If you are researching a potential relocation you are going to check the Internet. When the local Economic Development organization says "it's a great place", it's easy to dismiss it. After all, what town has an Economic Development organization that says "don't come here"? On the other hand, if locals are saying "there are serious problems" how will that impact your decision?

You will never be able to get rid of critics. And with the Internet, they now have a voice that is as loud, or louder, than your own. What's a town or business to do?

The Strategists' Proposed Solution

As I understood the article, Mr. Roberts proposed a two part solution:

1) Mr. Roberts said, "you need to be aware of these blogs".

2) The article also stated, "it is important for the MDC to be able to provide an alternative impression of itself and the community."

Seems like a great suggestion. Be aware of what is being said about you. Make sure that you are clearly communicating with your audience. In essence, be transparent and human. Let people know what you are doing. Have a conversation. Find out what others are thinking.

Beware Pre-Internet Thinking
Times have changed. It is important that we keep pace. For example, from the MRT article:

"I just think you have to be careful about spending a lot of time and resources on the vocal minority," MDC Chairman Jim Nelson said. "As the head of a company I'm not going to spend a lot of time on the 10 percent of employees you'll never make happy."

I understand what Mr. Nelson is saying, but I'm not so sure it applies equally in this context. In the real world, if 10 percent of your employees are complaining that is a concern because it can spread. However, as Mr. Nelson said, it is a minority and other employees are able to maintain that perspective as they make contact with the other 90 percent during the day.

On the other hand, that is not the case on the Internet. If the vocal minority are the only ones who are vocal - they make up 100 percent of the voice on the Internet. The individual or corporation researching Midland will hear a message loud and clear, and it will not be from the silent majority whether they are in fact pro-MDC or perhaps just indifferent.

Lessons To Be Learned
This isn't about the MDC or West Texas. This is about your business in the Internet Age. The Internet is about communication. Unlike costly mediums of yesteryear such as Television and Radio, anyone with a computer can freely publish as much as they wish on the Internet.

You as a business person need to keep an ear to the ground and know what is being said about your business. What's the buzz? Is it good? Is it bad? Or worse, is there none?

You as a business person need to communicate with your audience. The ease of communication enabled by the Internet has also increased expectations of communication.

What do you think?
Has your business used a blog to facilitate communication with your customers, community or audience? Has your business used a blog to successfully counter-balance criticism or negative publicity?

P.S. Please keep comments based on the technology angle invovled, and not the political elements of the topic. Thanks!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Don't lead your customers down a dead end.

I recently tried to lease a server from Dell. Here is what happened, and hopefully what we can learn as business people from the experience.

I placed my order through the Dell website, which was a fairly straight-forward process. I applied for the lease, and was approved.

Verification Required
Shortly after I placed the order I received an email stating that I would need to contact the Dell Financial Services verification department before my order could proceed.

No problem. I immediately called.

I was asked for my Dell customer #, name, tax ID, address and phone number and put on hold. Standard and simple.

Welcome to the Dead End
In the context of this discussion "dead ends" are places where the vendor leads a customer out to a point, and then abandons them. That's where I was about to end up.

After a few minutes on hold the operator returned and told me that "verification failed".

After four calls and speaking with a Supervisor, this was the dead end result:

  • Credit is fine it is a "verification" issue.
  • The account is locked indefinitely.
  • There is no way to find out what information failed verification.
  • There is no way to resolve the issue.
  • There is no one else to speak with.
I asked the Supervisor, "So you are telling me that I'm at a dead end. You are locking my account forever because you cannot verify some information - but you will not tell me what that information is or how to fix the issue?"

"That is correct."

It's like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone.

Dead Ends: Tangible Effects
Customer Perspecitve: These dead ends produce feelings of frustration and helplessness - not exactly the adjectives you want associated with your brand.

Operator Perspective: Instead of being able to help, policies relegate them to repeating "I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to do anything". This leads to speaking with unhappy customers, and results in low job satisfaction.

Company Perspective: Since the answer seemed so unreasonable I persistently made four attempts. In doing so I kept 4 different operators and ultimately a supervisor busy for a total of about 1 hour. The hour of time that Dell Financial Services paid those combined employees was totally wasted, because it did not accomplish anything positive for me or DFS, and worse it had all of the above mentioned negative results.

Lessons to be Learned

In brief, don't create customer dead ends.

You probably have policies that need to be enforced. Your may need to perform identity verification or other serious processes. Identify possible dead ends, and fix them. Give your employees some way to help the customer back out. Provide some form of solution.

Remember that every interaction you have with customers is part of your marketing. What is the message you are sending?

What do you think?
Are "dead ends" inescapable, or is it simply a matter of bad business policies?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Biz on the Web: What is your response policy?

It is not uncommon for me to interface with photographers.

A local photographer had in the past been hired by my client to take photos of the exterior of their building. That client now was wishing to have those shots used on the website. I was to contact the photographer and coordinate the purchase of the necessary rights to use the photos for the web.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I originally called and spoke with an assistant. She explained that I would need to speak with the photographer. She took my name and number, and told me he would call me back that same day.

He never called.

I gave him a few days and called again. This time no one answered and I left a message.

Again, no response.

After another week I called, and spoke with the same assistant again. I explained that I had left a message with her and one voicemail, but never received a response.

"He isn't very good about returning phone calls", I was told. The solution? I was instructed to simply continue to call back until I was able to catch him at a time when he wasn't 1) at lunch, 2) busy with a client, or 3) "out of the office".

What does this response policy tell me about the business, or at least the photographer? Plain and simple:

  • My business is not important to them.
  • My time is not important to them.
  • I am not important to them.
Perhaps they would change their attitude and response policy if they stopped to consider the message that it sends to others.

What is the "web" specific application of this little story?

Email and other forms of digital communication can easily become overwhelming. That being the case, it is easy to become like the above mentioned photographer and simply ignore it.

This is an approach that will never help your business. It certainly has potential to hurt your business.

Instead, take a moment to review or establish a response policy for your business. It doesn't haven't to be a long formal written document. Perhaps it is a few sentences or keywords. The point is to take a moment to think about how you will choose to handle email or other digital communications, and the message you wish to send by the way you do so.

Second, integrate that policy into how you and your co-workers go about their daily business. Include the necessary time in your schedule. Build it into your workflow.

Personally, I try to respond to all digital communications within 1 business day (although it is often much sooner). In the actual response I try to focus on what I can do, instead of what I can't. If solving a problem I try to provide more than one option. I try to avoid placing blame.

What is your response policy?
Do you have a policy regarding digital communication? If so, what is it?

Your Website: Is it handicap accessible?

Tuesday October 2, 2007 a precedent setting judgment was handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, The Honorable Marilyn Hall Patel presiding.

The decision held that under California law websites, such as Target.com, are required to provide accessibility to the blind.

As a business owner you are already familiar with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). You likely have handicap access to your physical location. Rulings such as this begin to lay a legal framework to establish similar requirements for the web.

For more information, please read the article Court Ruling Says California Disabled Rights Law Applies to the Web in the Yahoo! Finance section.

Nuance9 would be happy to work with your business to help make your website more accessible to disabled users.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Internet Disruption: How will you react?

The Internet has disrupted the status quo for many businesses. From retail stores to newspapers, businesses are facing a changed playing field. For example, geographical location is less of a boundary. Consumers now have access to more information regarding your products. They can easily compare your offerings and prices against your competitors. These changes can be a disaster or an opportunity depending on how you react as a business.

I recently have been shopping for a vehicle. I have been looking at both new and used, both on the Internet and at the car lots. The whole spectrum of the car buying experience.

A few month's back Seth Godin posted his experience with car salesman and the monumental difference between good and great. I'll relate my experience from a slightly different angle.

Specimen A: The Car Sales Creep.
Some of the salesman that I dealt with certainly lived up to their stereotypically negative reputation. Many of these would not list a price on the Internet. When you ask they refuse to give an honest or straight-forward answer in regards to the price of a vehicle. They had posters on the walls of their offices blatantly designed to inspire fear. These dealers would not answer any questions by email. To get any answers you have to visit them. The entire experience exudes contempt for the very people that make their business survive.

In the pre-Internet days this approach worked. The high-pressure approach pushed customers to close the sale at a price best for the salesman. Customers were more or less geographically confined (like sheep stuck in a pen with a wolf). Customers had limited ability to price shop. Even if the customers detested the experience, there was little choice - especially in smaller cities / towns. The setup is great for salesman. It absolutely stinks for the consumer.

Specimen B: The Internet Savvy Car Salesman.

Other salesman (and dealerships as a whole) have adopted another approach. When you ask for a best price, they give it to you. In fact, many of them simply post their best price on the Internet. Their manner is "helpful" instead of "predatory". They are willing to respond via email, even sending extra pictures or information on vehicles.

This second group has begun responding to the changes brought to the game by the Internet. The changes are helping to not only keep them relevant in the market, but even to benefit from the new playing field.

Two very different approaches in an Internet-enabled world. Needless to say, Specimen A views the Internet as a disaster. Specimen B views the Internet as an opportunity.

How Will Your Business React?

Chances are you are not a car salesman. Nevertheless, we each do well to examine how the Internet has changed the playing field in our specific industry - and honestly consider whether we are adjusting accordingly.

Has the Internet changed your business? How have you had to adjust? How have you used it as an opportunity?