Your Call Is Important to Us – Unless We’ve Pissed You Off.

This post turned out to be so long I have turned it into two-parts. Part-two will be available early Wednesday morning. Or, why not sign-upto get it in email?


You’d think with the economy as slow as it is right now that companies would be doing all they can to retain their customers. It is a fact that it is a lot more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to retain the ones you have.

But, it appears that once again that the Sales Prevention Department in many companies has reared its head. Instead of investing in the people who communicate with and serve the customer; companies are using this economic downturn as an opportunity to cut-back on customer service.

Instead of doing everything possible to thrill and retain their clients companies are outsourcing their customer service, using half the number of people they need in front-line, customer-centric jobs, and refusing to upgrade both support infrastructure and employee education.

And, when things go to hell and the customer is mad as a wet hornet, the company often uses the economy (or in the case of one company – the heat) as an excuse for the problems of their own making.

Here are a few of my recent personal experiences:

  1. Nature’s Prime Organic Foods – I became a customer in March. Well, I tried to become one. I bought a coupon through Groupon for Nature’s Prime. I placed my order and I also spent another $100 in addition to the $80 Groupon. The first thing the company did was charge my credit card for the entire order despite the fact they were not shipping for a couple of weeks. Those couple of weeks became months.

During all this time Groupon was fantastic. They were also embarrassed by Nature’s Prime’s communication and inaction. As the weeks turned into months, Nature’s Prime refused to communicate with me at all. NONE! They just ignored all requests. And, once again, that is what they did to many, many more customers.

Groupon finally gave up after they missed two more delivery dates and told me to file a dispute with my bank credit card. I sent that message to Nature’s Prime and suddenly got a call. The young lady was much harried and I could tell she was probably getting an earful from customers every minute of her day. She refunded my purchase.

Some companies will never learn they are not in control of their customers. Natures Prime Organic screwed over hundreds of people this year by not shipping their orders after immediately charging their cards. Most of this was part of a Groupon deal. Even Groupon could not get them to comply.

Yesterday the CFO posted on their Facebook Fan page “very pleased to announce the signing of lease for retail outlet/dist. Center in Melbourne Fla.” Fifteen people immediately responded with complaints.  I posted that they might want to consider investing in their people and customer service instead of brick and mortar for distribution. They responded by
removing my and some other posts. Then they took away the ability for people to leave them comments. The obviously believe customer communication is one-way and they are in charge.

I guess they never heard of Dell Hell. Here are some links I quickly found of people posting complaints.

By the way – they are the company using the heat as an excuse for not shipping. I’m sure the heat has been a problem in shipping at times this summer. But it wasn’t a factor all year. And, the heat wasn’t a reason for not returning calls, emails, and following through when they said they’d do something. And, when you have this many problems turning the conversation into what you think is one-way is a recipe for turning the internet into a megaphone blasting out your  actions.

  • Avid Technology is a large, publicly traded, international audio and video company. One of their divisions is Pinnacle. I’ve used Pinnacle products for a few years for video editing, creation, etc. so a few months ago I upgraded to their latest product called Avid Studio. I’d love to let you read the entire log of emails over the last couple of weeks between their first-level, offshore support and me. You’d either die of laughter or from crying.

Here is a little of our email dialogue:

Me:  I am shooting video in widescreen. I also have Control Panel, Project Settings, and New Movie format set for NTSC Widescreen. I have both tried checking and unchecking the “Detect format from first clip added to project. If we cannot detect the format we will use the format above.” However, when I drag a clip onto the timeline it will only put black borders on each side of the image filling up the widescreen. It will play widescreen movies fine that I previously made in Pinnacle using the same equipment with no problem. Your help is appreciated. Thank you.

Support’s Answer was – “I apologize for the inconvenience. Let me help you with that. That would be great also if you can provide me a screenshot of your problem for me to have a clear understanding of your case. Please give me a screenshot of the problem.”

“Screenshot!” I thought. “This is a video editing problem. How will a screenshot help?”

So I wrote back, “Instead of a screenshot which won’t actually show you what is happening, I created a video of the problem using GoView. All you have to do is go to this URL to see it. I look forward to a solution soon.

Their response – “I do appreciate the video you made. But I still need some information. Please do a right-click on the thumbnails of your videos then select ‘Display Information’ and please tell me what do you see the value of ‘Frame Aspect.’ You can actually toggle the project format and set it to NTSC widescreen or other, but for that to apply in a project, you need to change the settings first then create a new project to apply the changes made in the settings. “

The discerning reader will notice that the last sentence is exactly what I told them I was already doing in my first email.

This went in circles some more and then I asked to have my case escalated to the next level of support. They agreed and I then heard from another guy who I eventually decided sat in the same cubicle as my first support person. He asked me to send him a piece of the actual clip that is not processing correctly. I did a week ago on last Tuesday and he promised to get back to me by Thursday or Friday with a solution. I thought, “Why will it take 2-3 days more for them to respond. “ I was wrong. I’m writing this Monday afternoon and I still have not heard from them.

In the meantime, I started putting some tweets out about Avid’s customer service and looking for help. I also sent emails to two people I knew of from a couple of years ago but did not hear back from them. I did hear from a guy in their home office on Friday who follows their Twitter account and he promised to look into it and he had hoped to get back to me by COB on that day. I dropped him a note on Saturday morning and he said, “I’ll be in touch.”

Let’s stop here since the Avid story is ongoing. It’s Monday at 3:45PM EDT and I’ve yet to hear from the guys at the offshore site who promised to get back to me last Thursday or Friday. Nor have I heard from the guy at corporate who wanted a solution by last Friday but who now says he’ll be in touch. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have an update.

Meanwhile, we all know what good and bad customer service feels like. With one you come away feeling like you just enjoyed a bite of an Amedei Chuao chocolate bar.

With the other, you feel like you just discovered you’ve run out of toilet paper and you’re in a public restroom.

Your Call is Important to Us. Please Hold.

Somebody Has to Say It!
A 5-part series about customer service.

At some point in a company’s growth phase, someone in management will present to the board what they think is a fantastic idea for saving lots of money and thereby earning more money for stockholders. Usually this person has a role in finance and their title, while not important, is often controller, director of finance or maybe even Chief Financial Officer.

The really great idea goes like this, “Let’s outsource our customer service department.” And, the majority of the time when they say outsource they are referring to offshore outsourcing.

They will quote statistics and other company’s experiences to back-up their belief that outsourcing customer service can be done both effectively and with a positive outcome if correctly implemented. They’ll probably propose that the 30% in costs that they save by outsourcing can be applied to enhance other customer service interactions.

They might even keep a straight face when they say it.

All this and more is the story third-party call centers tell the finance departments and it’s an easy story to swallow if you believe:

  1. You will also be able to reduce capital equipment costs.
  2. You will be able to fire your current customer support staff.
  3. You will have a fixed expense that will look so much better in your annual report.

In my opinion, companies that outsource their customer service don’t care much about the level of their customer service in the first place. How could they when they are willing to place short-term monetary gains over their customers’ satisfaction? Meanwhile, every single person who hasn’t been living alone in a cave for the past 15 years has horror stories of dealing with customer service that has been outsourced.

This is the first post in a five-part series about customer service.

In tomorrow’s post, I detail names and experiences that left me feeling like my pocket was picked and the thief left behind a razor blade for me to find when I went looking for my wallet.

Mobile Technology Makes Me Laugh

I have a number of alerts set to let me know the latest news and articles about things I find interesting:

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Social Networking
  • Green Technologies
  • Science
  • Video and Still Photography

And a bunch more.

Without a doubt though some of the best laughs I get during the day happen when I read stories (sometimes disguised as news) about Mobile Technology.

You’re probably thinking Bob really is a geek if this is how he gets his laughs. And, you might be right but how can you not laugh when in the same set of alerts at the same time I get articles that totally contradict each other.

One will state how Android based phones have replaced the iPhone and is stealing all its customers. PC Magazine and CNET are always good for conflicting artilces. Another will state that iPhone is the king and Android will always be catching up. Just now there is an article letting me know Nokia has officially surrendered its smart phone lead to Apple. I think the unofficial belief is that happened some time ago.

Another writer in India just informed me that the key to stopping the BlackBerry death spiral is color. That’s right. All they had to do was throw off the marketing yoke of Henry Ford and make it in some color other than black.

I think many of these articles and news stories get written based on information from “reliable sources” and offshore suppliers who have “inside information.”

Originally I was going to call this post “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.”

And, then I realized as I was writing it – maybe they do.

The Business of Creativity

Do you love your clients? You should. We do here because we know that they could have gone to thousands of other consulting firms and sales and marketing coaches. I get all excited when a client chooses us because I know they found something out before they invested in our services that made them love us too. And, so we do our absolute best to deliver really great results and value to them.

If you’re in any kind of service – especially creative services – then you know that a client relationship has many of the same elements as a marriage. You may not always agree on everything and there will be times when you want to stomp out of the room and sulk but ultimately you come together as a team for your mutual benefit. And, when you do work as a team and also share respect and caring about each other then most often magic happens in the creative fields. That’s when you shift into feeling and creating and forget about contracts and fees and all the stuff that all business owners face.

Often I talk to sole-practitioners or freelancers who find themselves always worried about being successful. They worry constantly about the business side of their business because they have identified that’s their weakness. This worrying and fear ends up taking away from the creative side which then affects the business side and round and round we go – usually in a downward spiral.

The truth is that not everyone who lives a life of creativity can be a successful business person too.

But, you can partner or team up with someone who has the business skills. You can find someone who already understands the business side and make them your partner. You can hire someone who specializes in what you need and make them a permanent part of your team. They’ll make you money because you can now focus on the creative side.

The same thing goes for client development which is a euphemism for selling. You have to sell yourself, your company and your services. And, you have to put yourself in front of enough people who are interested in purchasing services like you offer so you can tell your story. That means spending a lot of time marketing, prospecting, and selling. Once again, not everyone can do that. You may be the best animator or designer or copywriter in the country. But, if you can’t market, prospect and sell it won’t matter unless you plan on working for the man all your life and even then you’ll be expected to do a fair share of all three of these jobs.

The solution is the same as above. Why be a lone wolf when you can be the leader of a pack? Almost all the creatives I meet that tell me their story of going it alone and struggling or failing are not the types of people who would prefer to live in a cave by themselves. Most of us humans have a deep need to belong to a community, team, or tribe.

Why be a lone wolf when you can be a leader of a pack? Build a team. Build a family.

Photo compliments of Brandon Carpenter

Hopping Mad Over Beer Commercials

Light Beer Marketing is Hard to Swallow!

I don’t drink much beer. That may come as a surprise to my fellow beer drinkers of almost 40 years ago. I admit to drinking my share of Iron City when I lived near Pittsburgh back in the 70’s. But, I got tired of the taste of domestic beer and light beer was the final straw for me.

I have never understood the entire light beer concept. The early marketing for the first light beer, Miller Lite, was based on a “Great Taste…Less Filling” theme which I always thought was an ingenious way to re-frame an opinion because most people I know who like the taste of beer would say that all light beer tastes less.

All this came pouring into my head this weekend when I asked my lovely wife Joann to pick up some beer for a friend who was coming over for a little party. We seldom have it in the house and I remembered at the last minute that’s all he drinks. He may even drink Miller Lite but friends don’t let friends drink light beer as far as I’m concerned so I suggested a seasonal brew from Anchor Steam which is one of the few brewers I like.

After discussing the fact that you can only buy beer by the case in Pennsylvania and that it has to come from a special beer distributor licensed by the state, I realized that Joann has never bought beer despite being of legal age for – ahh never mind.

The thought of musty PA alcohol laws only leaves me with a bitter taste.

That lead to me wondering how much beer is purchased by men versus women. I would guess men buy more but I don’t know anymore based on the commercials that Miller has been showing since around Super Bowl time. Their dominant theme is to call into question some guy’s masculinity, make him look like a moron and therefore not worthy to drink Miller Lite. I thought maybe it was some agency’s idea of appealing to women watching the Super Bowl but the ads have continued into the summer beer season.

The original marketing for Miller Lite using the “Great Taste…Less Filling” theme was one of the best ever created. Who can forget the commercials with Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Uecker, Bubba Smith, John Madden, and Ray Nitschke. Since then I can’t say Miller and their agencies have outdone themselves.

About eight years ago Miller brought back the theme only this time they went with a commercial with two beautiful, buxom women who get into a fist fight that moves to a swimming pool where they proceed to rip off each other clothes down to as skimpy a bra and panties as legally possible (at the time) and finally ends in a vat of concrete (mud). A censored version only shown on cable has an ending where one woman says “Let’s make out” as they proceed to lock lips.

It was a big hit with teenage boys who could not legally buy the beer. But, that wasn’t the point as the commercial had nothing to do with beer and everything to do with creating strong reactions even if they were negative.

Actually now having gotten to this point in this first draft of this post, I am beginning to see the genius of it all. I don’t know how I missed it but I’ll suck it up and quit complaining. It’s now clear. In fact, it’s clear as light beer.

By creating commercials that make people look like idiots, Miller really is appealing to the perfect light beer buyer.

Just in case you missed it. Check out this Bud Light Super Bowl commercial as compared to Miller’s Super Bowl skinny jeans. Now this is one that makes me howl.

It Will Happen to You Too

loose lips sink shipsI have a secret to tell you about people. They don’t always tell the truth. And, some of them will wish you the best of success while thinking of ways to overtly or covertly mess up your plans.

When you’re getting ready to start a new business or launch a new product you’ll get all excited and probably even a little scared. You’ll want to tell people all about it before it’s time and that will sometimes backfire on you. Or, people will wish you the best of success while actively working to sabotage you.

For example, when I started my first photography studio in the early 70’s in my hometown, I chose to purchase all my equipment and supplies from a local camera store instead of from one of the big professional dealers. I paid at least a 20% premium on most of the equipment but I wanted to support the community and buy locally.

About nine months later as I was moving the studio to larger and better space and I needed more equipment. I happened to be talking to another local businessperson and told them my plans. They asked if I still bought from the local store and I said, “Yes, of course.” Then he told me that I should know that the manager of the store (not the owner) was always “bad mouthing my work.” I was shocked as I was still very young and very idealistic. I thought “Why would someone do that when I am giving them more business than any other place in town?”

It doesn’t matter why he did it. The not-so-secret-secret is that people will betray your trust and support. Your banker with whom you shared information about a commercial property you are going to buy will tell someone he knows who has been looking at it and that someone will buy it out from under you. It will happen to you too.

You’ll share your idea for a new venture with someone you think of as a friend and they will tell someone who will tell someone who also thinks it is a good idea. It will often be inadvertent. People like to tell secrets. It makes them powerful or it gets them needed attention. It will happen to you too.

A motto during WW II was “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships.” It’s not a bad one to consider before you launch your ship. You wouldn’t want to see it never set sail or sink at sea. And as far as dealing with the type of person like my camera store manager take my advice and when you can verify that someone is working against your success – write them off. They’ll never ask you why you quit doing business with them. They’ll already know. It happens to them all the time.

Image compliments of Ajay Tallam

Guy Kawasaki Talks Enchantment

I had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Kawasaki yesterday to discuss his latest book, Enchantment:  The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions is Guy’s tenth book. In it, he explains how to influence what people will do while maintaining the highest standards of ethics.

The book explains when and why enchantment is necessary and then the pillars of enchantment: likability, trustworthiness, and a great cause.

The next topics are launching, overcoming resistance, making enchantment endure, and using technology. There are even special chapters dedicated to enchanting your employees and your boss.

Finally, because there are times you may want to resist enchantment, there’s even a chapter about how to do this too.

If you want to change the world — or even part of the world, this book is for you. To interact with the Enchantment community, go to the Enchantment Facebook page.

Once you listen to the interview you can buy the book at these websites. And, to get an idea of how enchanting you are you can take the GREAT quiz. Great stands for Guy’s Realistic Enchantment Aptitude Test.

Now enjoy the audio interview. It lasts about 27 minutes. Thank you.

7 Easy Ways to Write Great Headlines

David Ogilvy is quoted as saying that whenever he wrote an ad, he spent most of his time on the headline.  Especially back then, longer ads were the norm.  There were many, many paragraphs of text, often a full page of a magazine.

Why would he do this?

The reason he spent so much time writing headlines was that it’s the first thing people see on a page.  If the headline isn’t interesting, people are less likely to read further.

Ads live or die by the headline.

When there are competitions for marketing awards, the campaigns or ads that win aren’t necessarily the ones that made the most money.  That’s because the judges at these events read every word of every ad.  Real people flipping through a magazine or browsing a web site don’t do that.  They glance at the headline, look at the picture if there is one, and then decide whether it’s worth their time to read further.

So, if you want people to look at your ad, you’ll need a headline that really grabs their attention. But how?

Proven headline formulas

Luckily, there are some formulas you can use that will really attract attention.

  1. Use a number, like 101 Ways to Cut Your Heating Bill  or Top 10 Gifts for Valentine’s Day.
  2. Promise to reveal secrets: Secrets of Top Copywriters.
  3. Go to an extreme:  The Worst Headlines Ever.
  4. Make people curious: Do You Make These Mistakes in English? (this is a classic, but it still works because the only way to find out if you make those errors is to keep reading!) or Did You Just Sucker Punch a Potential Customer?
  5. Offer an easy solution to a vexing problem:  A Quick Way to Kill Bedbugs Once and for All.
  6. Tease them with a test of knowledge: Do You Recognize the Early Warning Signs of Writers’ Block?
  7. Help people get something they want:  21 Ways to Market Your Business for Free or Turn a Marketing Drip Into a Sales Flood.

The real key here?  It’s not fancy words or creative use of a thesaurus. It’s talking directly to your audience, about their problems, and how to fix them.  That’s all marketing really is.

What do you think?

Jodi Kaplan has been called the Clarity Driver and the Wizard of Words.  She blogs about broken marketing and how to stop it at Fix Your Broken Marketing.

iPad2, XOOM, and Sales 101

Setting the Stage – I’m in the market for a tablet – the computer kind – not the one I used in grade school. Although there is something to be said for the benefits of paper and pen though. But, my Dell laptop is acting wacko (technical term) and I’ve decided to try a tablet instead of replacing the laptop.

I have an iPhone and I was all set on getting the new iPad2. I’m not an Apple evangelist. I have a custom i7 tower running Windows that has screaming speed and all the computational power, bells and whistles that I need for a while. That means I don’t automatically get in line for the latest Apple product. On the other hand, I really like my iPhone and I was a Blackberry user before that.

The Sales & Marketing Part – So when I read about the iPad2 on March 2nd, I was sold. I went to the Apple website to buy it. But, Apple informed me they would not let me place an order. I would have to wait until March 11th which is the soonest Apple will take my money which is all part of their marketing strategy. Apple always makes the early adopters and fans wait and salivate for the newest and best ever. Except this time I’m wondering if that strategy is going to backfire.

I had already made my decision to purchase and I think they should have taken my order. When the customer says I’m ready to buy, Sales 101 says take the order. But, Apple marketing says “We’ll take the order when our marketing strategy dictates.” And, I still might buy the iPad on March 11th. But, I also might buy something totally different – something that a lot of people who get paid for evaluating these kinds of things say is better. And, I wouldn’t know about this other tablet or even want to read about it if Apple had only taken my order when they announced the product on March 2nd.

Here’s what happened that may change my mind. Today my desktop reader had a story about something called the XOOM. The headline was screaming out for my attention so I read the story. What I found is that the XOOM has some major compelling features and benefits when compared to the iPad2. I’m not going to list them because that isn’t what this story is about.

The XOOM is made by Motorola. After reading the article I went to the XOOM site with two questions.

  1. Can you purchase just a Wi-Fi version as I’m not all that interested in connecting to Verizon’s system with another device.
  2. And, how much does it cost.

I couldn’t find the answer to either question on the Motorola XOOM site. I could click on a Buy Now button which took me to Verizon where I was asked my Zip code and told I could buy it for $599 with a two-year data plan which made me think that I can’t buy a Wi-Fi only model. That isn’t what I wanted and I still didn’t have an answer to my questions.

Just for giggles I Googled “Must I buy a data plan with the XOOM?” Guess what? I don’t have to buy a data plan. Although apparently you did when the XOOM was first released. Or, maybe I still do. Talk about confusion. And to make matters worse some of the compelling features are not finished and don’t work. Yikes!

And, this brings me back to Apple. They aren’t confused and they don’t leave me confused. I can go to their site and see every configuration of the iPad2 and I know exactly how much it will cost. I can’t easily do that (if at all) with the XOOM. I leave the Motorola, Verizon and Best Buy sites wondering if they know what they are selling and who they are selling it to. It does not inspire confidence.

The Bottom Line – Apple has their act together when it comes to marketing, design, and customer service (most of the time although I hear stories of service slipping). They are also tuned into their fans like no other company.

Verizon is an entirely different story. Rated one of the Bottom 10 companies in the US for customer service, I can attest they do work hard to earn that distinction. Best Buy who is also selling the XOOM get a Dishonorable Mention in the same survey.

I have confidence in Apple. I find a bit of arrogance seeping into their customer service. So, which do you think I will buy? Which one would you buy assuming you had the need or just wanted one? Why?

I’ll probably get the iPad2. But, I’d still advise Apple to take the order when someone wants to buy and not when they are ready to let them buy.

It’s Sales 101.

They Are the Boss of You

I was doing some web surfing last night that left me shaking my head at how some companies still think they are in control of what consumers want. There was a time when they could jam advertising down our throats and we pretty much had to accept it in order to get the content we wanted. Everyone knows those days are over – everyone that is except those companies (almost always large) that just won’t give up trying to be in control of our viewing habits.

Are you familiar with the term pre-roll? It is the online video ad that comes up and forces you to watch it when you click on a link to content you’d like to see. ABC is one of the worst for pre-roll video in my opinion. If the news story is hot or one likely to attract a lot of eyes then you can bet that ABC will put a 15 – 30 second ad in front of the story that you cannot stop if you want to watch the story.

So what do people do about that? If they are like me they click away from ABC and find the same story someplace else. TubeMogul states that 16% click away. I’m not buying that. I think it is a lot higher.

But, then maybe most people have lots of time to waste and enjoy being manipulated into watching something. I doubt that!

I’m very interested in using online video for business and so should you if you care about sales and marketing. Using video to market, educate, entertain, sell, etc. is the sweet spot of online marketing now and for at least as many years forward as I can see. I don’t have to tell you (but I am) that your television, computer and mobile device screen (especially your mobile device screen) are all kind of merging together as far as where you get information.

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world – larger than Yahoo. Your customers are watching more online video all the time and it isn’t just the kids. The middle-age to senior demographic is also showing amazing growth in online video viewing.

What you need to remember is the customer is in total control now. You need to get their attention but not by manipulating them into watching your advertisement. Most of them are not even original but just a 30 or 60 second commercial the agency cut down to fit in a shorter time span online.

What you and I will be doing is delighting our customers, clients and prospects with video that is interesting, educational, entertaining and fun! Video can be a great salesperson for you but just like you need an exceptional salesperson to get exceptional results the same thing goes for video. Put out junk video and it will work as well as using a junk direct mailing.

The same companies using manipulating tactics with online video are also using Twitter and Facebook to push advertising instead of having a conversation or putting out information people want to read or see. Don’t let yourself become one of them. Find yourself someone to guide you and run from anyone who says you need a big production budget. The most watched online videos are short and simple.

I’m excited about the future of online video. I want my clients to use it to not only market but to improve customer service, interactively engage with people, teach, and make them smile.

If you have any doubts about how important online video is to your business, I want you remember that is a medium like film, radio, and television. At the time those three mediums began people scoffed and said it will never replace the previous, it won’t become popular, it is just a gimmick, etc. It is a fact that many of those people were marketers who wanted to stick with what was working. I wonder things turned out for them?

Don’t be one of them. Start learning about online video now. I’m going to sponsor a free “How to Use Online Video in Your Business” webinar in the near future. If you’re interested in getting an email announcement before we invite the general public, then click here and you’ll have the first opportunity to register. It should be both educational and fun!

Learn How to Recognize and Sell to the Four Personality Types

People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. Since we can’t pick or choose the “type” of person we are most likely to trust and like right away, we need to learn how to effectively with everyone’s personality style.” Learn how in this report and start increasing your sales right away!

Selling To The Four Personality Types