Crashable Mashable

firefoxcrashA few weeks ago, I noticed a behavior that I had frankly not seen before – my Firefox browser started to crash. Firefox has always been stable in my experience (note: using a Dell laptop) and I found this to be perplexing.

I noticed that it happened just after I clicked links in Twitter, and furthermore, after some days of observation, it became evident that the crashing only happened in conjunction with links from one site - Mashable.com.

Now I’d never had problems with the Mashable site before, and always enjoyed the updates from there. But I began to have a nervous tic when I’d see Pete Cashmore’s avatar in my tweetstream.

I put out several tweets over the course of a couple weeks about this problem, wondering if the Mashable folks had perhaps added some widget or other such on their site that would cause this. I had not added-on any new Firefox extensions in recent weeks. Then the issue seemed to resolve itself after upgrading to Firefox 3.5. Nice. Case closed. Except for one thing…

To my surprise, I heard from Mashable’s CTO (through LinkedIn for some reason) asking for whatever information I could give to help figure out “what wasn’t playing nice.” Now I don’t know anybody at Mashable, and I’m not a particularly important person, but I was quite impressed that Frederick reached out directly and tried to help. Since the upgrade seemed to resolve it, I’m not sure I can troubleshoot any further, but I’ll put a big check mark in the Win column for these folks, for “listening” and following up. And, I’m glad to have no more nervous tics about clicking on interesting Mashable links!

Does Comcast Care?

A lot of virtual ink has been expended writing about Comcast, which has embraced Twitter to provide customer service (Frank Eliason @comcastcares), but which suffers from a reputation of poor customer service in other quarters.

I don’t have Comcast here in north Jersey, but I was in Connecticut at my mother’s house yesterday, and I saw a small slice of Comcast in action.

You see, Mom recently had to get a new device (free) to handle the upcoming switchover to digital TV. Once it was installed, everything started not working. Phone help was inadequate to resolve the problem, and so a tech person was scheduled to visit the next day, between 12-2 pm.

I was out doing yard work when this tech guy pulled up (early!). The first thing I saw was a friendly face – a guy who engaged me in conversation with a smile. He then proceeded to go in the house, troubleshoot, and eventually replace some old relays on the outside of the house that weren’t “digital-ready”. Having quickly done a thorough job, and having made sure that everything was working perfectly, this fellow took his gentle laugh and smiling face and drove off to his next appointment, as a Comcast ambassador of good will.

Does Comcast care? I cannot make a blanket judgment one way or another about a huge organization. Does a certain technician servicing Berlin, CT care? He sure does. Enough to make me publicly praise him in a blog post, though I didn’t even catch his name. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Giving remarkable, caring service.

Loyalty is earned at the point of contact with customers. Hire caring people. Then folks will believe that your company cares.

“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Five in the Morning 020609

bcarrollWe picked up and moved all the way to the Left Coast today! That diva of all-things-customer, Becky Carroll, guest-hosts Five in the Morning over at her Customers Rock! blog (and if you’re not subscribed to her blog, remedy that situation post-haste!)

Here’s the link to her Five in the Morning post - Go! Thanks, Becky!

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fyi – the new Woodruff puppy Mystic doesn’t yet know how to do tricks, but she did set up her own Twitter account – and she has some a-t-t-i-t-u-d-e. You can get some doggie tweets by following her @mysticwood.

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Five in the Morning 010709

Customers. Where would we be without customers? Talk is cheap, so let’s invest a little time thinking about the people that really count…

That West Coast Diva of Customer Stuff, Becky Carroll, unveils her Top 3 picks for Customer Rock Stars of 2008. Check out these, plus the runners-up, listed on Becky’s Customers Rock! blog.

Meanwhile, back East, Doug Meacham on his NextUp blog (focusing on customer experience) does a riff on Guitar (Hero) Marketing. On that post, you will find my new favorite term. If you’re not following Doug on Twitter (@dougmeacham), you should, and if you miss the opportunity to have him chauffeur you all over Richmond with a belly full of BBQ ribs on your next trip to that fair city – well, you ain’t lived. Bring napkins.

Introducing Casey Hibbard’s book on customer case studies. Stories that Sell.

David Polinchock gets a “Five” mention 2 days in a row. I think that’s a first. But he deserves it, for this thoughtful post on how customer experience interacts with declines in retail stores.  “As we wrote in a piece for the Retail Advertising Conference last year, our walk through the luxury domain of the upper East Side showed that many of the stores up there were just ‘soulless, glorified, two-dimensional web sites; products are presented passively to consumers with no retail-as-theater.’ Who wants to spend time — and money — in a retail environment like that?”

Frank Martin over at Marketing Magic has Three Things you can do Right Now to Jump-start your Marketing. Well, there’s more than three, actually – Frank cheats by using sub-points! But he gets a pass, since this is a good reminder of the basics of taking care of ALL your customers.

Hey, a late entry. David “The Hat” Armano just posted this little blurb about a well-designed blog effort by a bank, making it easy for user interaction. I’m kinda real picky about on-line user design, and it’s nice to see a well-executed setup like this. And while we’re going late entries, we may as well add Drew McLellan‘s just-published post on MarketingProfs Daily Fix, about Dancing with the One who Brought You (talk to your customers!)

And, just for fun, a quick video laugh from Dave Taylor over at Brandgym. This is the top-rated YouTube video in the UK (and in the Top 5 globally) – who’da thunk it??

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Peace of Mind, Guaranteed

billsavittYesterday, for no apparent discernible reason, I said something to my wife about “P.O.M.G.”

For those of us who grew up in Central Connecticut a few decades back, that’s “Peace of Mind, Guaranteed.” A tagline and acronym relentlessly pounded into our impressionable little brains in the 60′s and 70′s by Savitt Jeweler’s in Hartford (hey! – Google has just helped me discover that they’re still around!)

Bill Savitt rode that expression on the radio and TV airwaves for years. And here, many decades later, never having gone to Savitt’s for anything, or thought about them in forever, the tagline still sticks.

Do you doubt the power of a great tagline, reinforced through repetition? Don’t. Put your creative juices to work trying to create a hook that will endure. You’ll gain a piece of mind. Guaranteed.

(Some interesting backstory on Bill Savitt, and image credit)

Five in the Morning 120808

green5Upgrade your brainstorming! Paul Williams over at MarketingProfs Daily Fix shows us how.

Does your brand pass the CUB test? From the good folks at Brand Aid.

Right on, Target. One smart little move by Target makes a better shopping experience – and earns them more cash.

Buyology. Ivana Taylor reviews an interesting-sounding book on why we buy.

You’re read about the Zappos (shoe retailer) social media success story. Now, take a pictorial tour of HQ, courtesy of Guy Kawasaki. Never seen nothin’ like this before!!

OVERDOSE ON WOODRUFF BONUS – if you missed it at the end of the last week, the latest StickyFigure spoof: Social Media Museum has Bloggers All A-Twitter. Plus, on my personal blog (Steve’s Leaves), a Sunday Muse: Finding Grace. (And, Ann Handley just told me that my new MarketingProfs Daily Fix post is up: I’M PURSUING (niche) DOMINATION! This is probably the only time you’ll have a “Five in the Morning” trifecta – Woodruff links on three different blogs…)

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Right on, Target

target-logo1I’m a guy, so understand that I can be dumb at times. Like, going into Target today to buy a couple of things. How ridiculous is that concept? Everyone knows that if you go to Target, you automatically have to count on buying at least 2, if not 3 times what you intended.

Anyway, intending to just pick up my couple of pre-planned items, I did not grab one of those hand-held shopping baskets (let alone a cart – guys don’t do carts for little runs like this!). Needless to day, before I ever got to the items I needed, I already had an arm full of two bulky things I didn’t know I needed, and my cash-and-carry bandwidth was about to be exceeded.

Here is where Target is very smart.

There, far away from the front or the registers, was one of those containers holding the shopping baskets! In fact, sprinkled throughout the store, just for dunces like me, were these handy outposts. A small touch. But very smart!

Why? Because now I could spend even more – and I did (yes, you can picture my wife rolling her eyes when I came in the door). More carry, more cash for Target – and I was happy too. Yet how many stores make you walk all the way back to get a basket or cart, putting up a barrier to extracting maximum dollars from you? Because I don’t believe I would have spent as much had that basket not been right where I needed it. Right on, Target. You know your shoppers.

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Five in the Morning 120308

Me Me Me Me Me Me Me. Maybe it should be called Social Usdia. Read a good one by Gennefer Snowfield. Then have a chuckle with Ike Pigott (who is one of my favorite tweeters of keen insight mixed with humor).

Yet another top marketing blogs list – but this one has some pretty neat-o caricatures, so well worth a scan!

Who are your yacht buyers? Interesting thoughts for difficult times, from the fun and friendly Steve Roesler (guest-posting on Drew McLellan’s blog). Oh, and if you missed it, some good stuff from Jason Falls on using social media for listening. Please, nobody tell Drew that while he’s been gone on vacation and having guests post, that THEY’re getting all the Five in the Morning traction…

Your Customer Really is King. From Inside-the-big-enterprise-company blogger Kelly Feller.

Dissing blogging – worth a thought-provoking read. However, this author has such a narrow view of the value of blogging (equating it with journalism), and such a lack of understanding of the connection-building power of blogging as a component of the various forms of social media, that I think it’s safe to say that he MISSES THE POINT. What think you? And, if dissing blogging isn’t enough for today, Valleywag disses Twitter (company and platform). Actually, some valid points are made here. We who are in the microblogging community have to be careful not to have an overly-inflated view of what we’re doing, and seek to avoid patting ourselves (and each other) on the back so much that we forget to add value to others…but here’s a brief business success story as counterbalance. And read about this upcoming series from fellow North Jersey blogger CB Whittemore, on bridging the New and the Old with Social Media.

FUN BONUS – Top 10 People to Unfollow on Twitter. From someone I’ve followed for a long time (and wouldn’t consider unfollowing unless he morphed into one of these clowns), Shannon Whitley.

And finally, a question for you readers. What are the blogs/sites you find most helpful, that perhaps would be Five-worthy? – and specifically, I’m thinking business/entrepreneur/inspirational sites that aren’t necessary known much inside our social media “bubble.” Would like to continue to expand our universe of worthy and helpful voices…(leave a comment with suggestions – thanks!)

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Five in the Morning 112608

(Five in the Morning will take a break for Thanksgiving…be back on Monday!)

Geoff Livingston with some pithy lessons learned after 10K tweets on Twitter. Good stuff here. Geoff calls it likes he sees it.

Sticking with a Twitter theme, Pistachio‘s blog on Twitter means Business (with brief case studies).

Louis Gray makes the case that sharing and self-promotion in social media are a 2-way street. Good perspectives here. Plus a link to his earlier post on 35 tips to get started with social media.

Common Mistakes in Starting a Blog. From that recent transplant from the great Northeast to the wilds of South Carolina, Matt J McDonald.

An interesting customer service (or lawsuit avoidance, or…) initiative by Infiniti, from Jason Baer. Would you resist this bribe? Quite a story…

PLUS – So you suffer from Idea Heartburn? -from Jeff Pulver. And, a feeble attempt at a one-sentence summary of the financial meltdown (strange things come to mind when you awake in the middle of the night, I know!)

(Image credit)

Five in the Morning 112108

Well, I’m back from a 2-day trip to Chicago, and it looks like my little experiment in time-queued blog posts and tweets for Five in the Morning worked OK (yes, the last 2 days had been prepared in advance on Tuesday). I know, I know, this is hardly a cutting-edge technology advance, but I’m of a generation that still marvels a bit when stuff like that actually works!

So, without further ado, some fresh posts for your Friday:

I have lived in New Jersey for many years (still cannot bring myself to say I’m “from NJ” – sorry, but I’m from Connecticut). Anyway, there’s a lot that happens in this state that can make a resident grind his/her teeth into gnashing nubs, but Spike Jones points out this fabulous – and creative – and really helpful – promotion by the New Jersey Nets. Wow – now that’s how to take care of your fans!

The AdverGirl (Leigh Householder) has a series going on How Companies are using Social Media. A number of posts are already up – this link is to the first one. Tune it!

Legendary customer experience marketer and wanna-be rock star Doug Meacham has begun his own series on the Transaction vs. the Customer Experience (in retail). Here’s the first entry.

Seek criticism. From the creative David Airey. Sound counter-intuitive? Not if you want to keep improving!

Mack Collier writes a helpful post about GE’s initial foray into blogging/Twitter. What I want to point out here is Mack’s tone of helpfulness and his call for patience. After the Motrin fiasco of the past week, I think we all need to take a deep breath and be sure not to crucify companies that dip their toes in the social media water. Mistakes will be made, initial forays will be incomplete or askew. Let’s follow Mack’s example and be helpful, instead of battering newcomers and scaring them off. It’s a supportive tone of understanding and support (which has always marked our community) that will grow utilization. We all stumbled our way into this not many months/years ago, right…?

PLUS: Every blogger will understand why this is funny! Do not sip coffee before reading lest you snort it all out on your keyboard…

Oh…and did you know that you’re owed a free Dr. Pepper?

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A Boy and his Legos

legosIt was his 7th birthday, and his heart was set on a particular Lego set. You know – one of the pretty big boxes with an elaborate outer-space thingamajig and lots and lots of pieces.

Except when he opened up, there weren’t lots and lots of pieces. Only lots – even though the box was properly sealed, many of the bags of pieces were missing. Worse – this was the last set in the store where it was purchased.

When things go wrong, this boy’s Mom is not afraid to call a company to give them a chance to make things right. And so she called Lego. And lo and behold, a few days later, a box arrived with an entire new set – with lots and lots of pieces.

Boy – happy. Mom – happy. Dad – happy to share a good customer service story. Way to go, Lego!

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Five in the Morning After, 110508

It’s over. And I’ll bet a lot of folks aren’t getting up anywhere close to 5 in the morning!

Truth be told, I wasn’t up then either. Closer to 6 am. But here are your 5 fresh posts to start the day…

MarketingShift brings us two interesting lessons. British Airways finds out about the power of social networking (and not in a good way). And, by seeking to “do good” with free election day giveaways, did some companies “do wrong”? Didn’t see this one coming…(I did get a free cup of Starbucks yesterday…does that make me and a few million others accessories to a felony?)

Rohit Bhargava gives us a nice visual on how one Obama branding strategy was quite effective. I agree with him, though I am usually more of a branding/logo “purist” – what do you think?

Rick Turoczy drinks some Juice. Have you tried it yet? I plan to!

Seth Godin summarizes some interesting marketing lessons (yes, with “tribe” angles) from the U.S. election.

The speed of Twitter. An interesting example from Mack Collier, along with a link to a good post from Mike Sansone.

PLUS: The power of a simple graphic. Really neat. From Todd And’s blog.

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Age of Conversation (2) Available NOW

The long-awaited second edition of The Age of Conversation is now available! This group-authored book is a great introduction to social media, told in the voices of dozens of practitioners (see list below!).

I was honored to contribute a chapter to both the first and second editions. And the collaborators are top-notch!

You can buy the book right here. There are hardback, paperback, and e-book versions available. All proceeds to Variety – the Children’s Charity.

Here is the author list!

Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Chris Brown, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Schawbel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Dave Davison, David Armano, David Berkowitz, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne & Todd Cabral, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, John Herrington, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kristin Gorski, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tim Brunelle, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

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The Little Things: Elevating the Customer Experience

This week, my wife told me about two remarkable (hey – she remarked on them!) “little things” that made her customer experience more positive. Thought I’d share them, because I think we can all relate:

1. We recently bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan, and it was due for its 5K miles service. She had an appointment, and when walking in, her name was up on a video display with the scheduled time. Then, she was told that she could sit in the waiting room (free wi-fi, coffee, donuts), but they also had a “quiet room” without the blaring TV! She was able to read and wait in peace, comfortably…no small thing when you’ve been in far less pleasant waiting rooms for automobile service!

2. The Shop-Rite where she shops for groceries recently put in some new technology for the deli counter. Instead of giving your order to a harried person, maybe taking a number, and than waiting there to be called, she was able to punch in her name and order into a terminal, then go on shopping. When she came back, here order was just sitting there waiting for her. No wait, no aggravation.

Little things. They matter. It’s what gets people talking!

(Image credit: Brian Solis shot of Becky Carroll, Customers Rock! guru)

Five in the Morning 102108

Is new media marketing becoming “mainstreamed”? Check out what Paul Chaney has to say.

Re-branding…fish…with new names. Guess I hadn’t thought of that one. From the NameWire blog.

How can social media help with customer loyalty? Becky Carroll over at Customers Rock! begins a brief series this week, with quickie videos (at this link – a video from Jim Kukral). Anything Becky produces is worth your attention.

Why do we blog? Here’s what Darren Rowse (@problogger) found out when he asked his readers.

Ann Handley has Nine Questions for Guy Kawasaki. Read the Q&A here.

PLUS: Only Ann Handley could pull this off. From her blog A n n a r c h y: A Toast to Cancer.

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Five in the Morning 101508

Becky Carroll lets us know about the Customers 1st conference, in November at Disneyland.  Read the post – looks like a terrific event!

What is Social Media Marketing and how can you use it effectively? Great stuff from Mack Collier.

Doug Karr asks, Do (blog) Comments equal Conversions? Short answer – no.

One win is all it takes – a quick encouragement from Jim Kukral.

An interesting perspective from Penelope Trunk5 reasons why you don’t need to write a book. Authors, what say you about this?

And, for a laugh… (hat tip: Todd And)

There probably won’t be a Five in the Morning on Thursday, as I’ll be at a conference…but then again, I might get really motivated at 5:00 am!

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A Return to Lowe’s – Strike 2, and a Home Run

A short while back, I wrote up a post about a very frustrating e-commerce (de-commerce) experience with the Lowes.com website, from which I tried to order a simple gift card. Let’s just say it was a total fail – you can read the backstory here.

I decided to write a follow-up post because of one very remarkable customer-service experience that I heard about from a fellow soccer coach. And that will be described below. But first…since one of the Lowe’s web developers had talked to me after my snarky original post, I decided to go back to their site and see if they’d fixed the problem.

Sure enough, the site design/navigation was re-vamped and better structured. Yay! Also, I went through the process of ordering a gift card, and sure enough, now it was talking about shipping the card to me or to the recipient, etc. etc. – Yay! But once again, at the final step, IT WOULDN’T LET ME ORDER ON-LINE – it insisted on directing me to local stores by asking for my zip code, and I could NOT, in fact, do the transaction on-line – GRRRRR!!!! C’mon folks, get this right!

OK, that’s the bad news. Strike 2. Now, here’s the home run. Last evening, a fellow was describing the fact that he had ordered cabinets from Lowe’s, and most of the order had come in right, but 4 times (that’s four – as in 1, 2, 3, 4) a specific piece was not ordered in correctly. OK, that’s not good. Talking to the manager about this repeat failure, he was asked if he was also looking for a grill (he was). She directed him to just pick one out and pointed to the section. He protested that this was too much for his trouble, so she said she’d take 50% off. When he selected a rather high-end model and brought it to the register, he found that he was only charged $1.00. Circling back to the manager, she smiled and said that she knew he wouldn’t go through with it if she said it was free, so she floated the 50% thing to help him over that hump – but in fact, he was going to get it free for his trouble. Sneaky! And very memorable.

Did she end up creating a customer for life? Probably. Did she have any inkling that the story would be told in a format like this, engendering good will toward Lowe’s across who knows how many time zones? I doubt it. But if we can use social media to point out the bad, we should also use it to highlight the good. And that’s what I just did.

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“We’re Yahoo – May We Gouge You?”

I’ve been using Yahoo’s web services pretty heavily since starting my business a couple years ago. I have a premium small business account for their e-mail service, and I’ve reserved a number of web domains through Yahoo (a number being actively used, others held in reserve), because at $9.95/year/domain, I couldn’t afford not to.

However, Yahoo sent out notice earlier this year that the cost of domain name renewal was going up to $12.95/year, starting in March 2008. Oooookay, I guess that’s not too big a leap, even though I seriously doubt that their costs for administering those domains has jumped by 25%, but I’m not going to quibble.

All of a sudden, now, another renewal notice comes that, starting in July 2008, the cost has gone up to $34.95/domain/year! Why? Or should I say, Y?

That, my friends, is gouging. Other companies are offering domain registration for way less, and at last check, digital storage of domain names wasn’t on the short list of inflationary pressures. Yahoo is obviously counting on the relative pain of changing providers as a strategy for extracting maximum dollars from current users.

Way to alienate your customer base, folks. I’ll be looking elsewhere…

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Hi

Welcome to new readers of StickyFigure, a small-to-medium sized outpost here on the long tail of marketing blogs! Your tour guide is Steve Woodruff, marketer, consultant, entrepreneur, and reasonably nice person whose writings are generally brilliant and life-changing (note: your results may vary).

Stickyfigure is where I publish ramblings and resources about marketing, branding, social media, entrepreneurship, and life in the business world. My paying job is as a pharmaceutical consultant, and in that realm, I maintain a focused blog called Impactiviti. My personal blog, stevewoodruff.com, is where I park “other” non-business musings.

If you’d like a sample of some “Greatest Hits” (well, in my opinion anyway!), here are a few links:

Branding:

How to be Unremarkable

Brand Paul Potts

Personal Branding:

Your Personal Brand: Does it Matter?

Wax-free Bloggers

Social Media:

Your Marketing is Already Outsourced

One Interface to Rule them All

Marketing/Customer Experience:

How to Waste 100,000 Billboards

Lowe’s to Home Depot: Take 5! No, Take Fifty!

Entrepreneurship:

How I Became a Consultant

10 Lessons Learned from Starting a Small Business

So, feel free to browse through the blog. You’ll also find a few spoofs, and a number of posts about collaborative blogging efforts. And, if you’d like to connect, I can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Image credit: Coollogcabin.com

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Lowe’s to Home Depot: take 5. No, take 50!

Recently, a young couple we know and love were able to buy their first home. And, as all of you have “been there, done that” know, this involves beating a well-worn path to your neighborhood supply stores (especially, these days, Lowe’s or Home Depot) for the endless array of “stuff” you suddenly find out that you need as a homeowner.

So, as a housewarming gift, we thought it only appropriate to get a gift card. Since one of them had mentioned trips to Lowe’s, I figured that was the logical choice. And I was thrilled to see that you can just order the gift card on-line and have it sent for free – e-commerce is a beautiful thing.

Except at Lowe’s.

Four tries to simply order a $50 gift card. Four fails. Not only was the website slow and cumbersome, but when I’d try to complete the order, instead of just getting my info and completing the transaction, the site wanted my zip code so it could show me where the nearest stores were. It actively DID NOT ALLOW me to finish the purchase. A couple times, the site even froze.

That’s not e-commerce. It’s de-commerce!

So, with its brain-dead user interface, Lowe’s said to Home Depot: Take $50! And Home Depot was glad to oblige. No problem with their user experience.

When visiting the actual big box stores, my experience has been that Lowe’s seems cleaner and more nicely structured. But if you can’t replicate that on-line, then you’re going to lose customers to the competition. Would Lowe’s even think of putting a maze in front of the check-out counters in their store? Then why do that on-line? When people are ready to hand over their money, you’d better not put barriers in the way!

(UPDATE: here is documentation of the failure showing step-by-step screen flow [SlideShare file]. Oh, and Lowe’s?? I know this post seems quite negative, but I’m trying to help you here…my consulting time documenting your revenue loss is donated. You’re welcome!)

(UPDATE 2: This post did stir up some attention at Lowe’s. I actually got a call from someone well-placed in the Lowes.com environment, who spoke to me about the problem with real candor, and shared about  upcoming changes to the site. Does social media work? Yes it does!)

(image credit)

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How to get StickyFigure to walk around with a silly grin on his mug

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we visited Mom up in Central Connecticut, and experienced an unexpected pleasure. A Stew Leonard’s grocery store had opened up nearby, and we went for a visit.

stew-l-newington.jpg

I had heard about this small NY/CT chain over the years, and so I was prepped for the fact that Stew’s was a destination, not a mere grocery store.

And so, there I was wandering through a food store, a bemused grin painted across my face, fresh amusement and amazement delighting me with every turn of the corner. Folks, these people are ON IT! This is how food shopping ought be!

First of all, the store is not laid out in traditional aisles. You wander a meandering path from department to department, taking in the various sights and smells of each area. Wisely, the fresh coffee (with a roasting machine on-site, and bins of beans that, in some cases, are still warm!) is right up front. I could not resist grinding and buying some and it is delicious. Plus, at many points along the way, free samples are offered – the pumpkin donuts, and the thick sweet potato chips were scrumptious – so you’re definitely getting a multi-sensory experience all along the way.

For kids, there are various stations where you can press buttons and have amusing farm animals perform for you, plus there are mechanical thingamabobs hanging from the ceiling to keep young (and old!) attention spans occupied.

stew-animals.jpgI felt like I was at a country fair. Probably looked like a real doofus, with a crooked grin seeing all this marketing genius embodied in a store, but I didn’t care – it was so much FUN!

When was the last time you went to buy food and had fun? When was the last time you looked forward to a trip somewhere so you’d have an excuse to return to a grocery store? I’m looking forward to my next visit over the Christmas holidays!

The food quality appeared to be quite good across the board – a lot of fresh stuff and quite a wide variety. Prices were moderately higher than normal, but somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to care about that. I was too enthused about the overall customer experience. Stew’s re-defines what shopping should be!

Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

Greetings…done right

Today, I am at a Hyatt hotel in Chicago, which (apparently) has had a major renovation recently. I guess that must have meant big-time improvements, but one very simple thing has impressed me more than anything.

When I arrived to check in, instead of a monolithic counter behind which employees are half-hidden and walled-off from customers, this hotel has little individual counters, and those responsible for check in stand in front. They come out to greet you, find out what you need, and only then go behind the (warmly-decorated) counters to look up the room reservation, etc.

This one little change in the user experience was delightful. I saw something similar at a Westin recently. These hotels latched on to something – a warm personal experience for a FIRST IMPRESSION can outweigh all the other aspects that perhaps cost far more.

How does this relate to your receptionist? Your website or blog? Your business card? The greeters at your house of worship (which reminds me…I’m up this Sunday!)? Think about the first interaction people have with you, or your organization. Are you hiding behind a wall? Or out front with your guests?

A Pilot Customer Service Program

From today’s Wall Street Journal (may be subscription fee for on-line article):

[Danny Flanagan]Capt. Denny Flanagan is a rare bird in today’s frustration-filled air-travel world — a pilot who goes out of his way to make flying fun for passengers.

When pets travel in cargo compartments, the United Airlines veteran snaps pictures of them with his cellphone camera, then shows owners that their animals are on board. In the air, he has flight attendants raffle off 10% discount coupons and unopened bottles of wine. He writes notes to first-class passengers and elite-level frequent fliers on the back of his business cards, addressing them by name and thanking them for their business. If flights are delayed or diverted to other cities because of storms, Capt. Flanagan tries to find a McDonald’s where he can order 200 hamburgers, or a snack shop that has apples or bananas he can hand out.

And when unaccompanied children are on his flights, he personally calls parents with reassuring updates. “I picked up the phone and he said, ‘This is the captain from your son’s flight,’ ” said Kenneth Klein, whose 12-year-old son was delayed by thunderstorms in Chicago last month on a trip from Los Angeles to see his grandfather in Toronto. “It was unbelievable. One of the big problems is kids sit on planes and no one tells you what’s happening, and this was the exact opposite.”

So unusual is the service that Capt. Flanagan has been a subject of discussion on FlyerTalk.com, an online community for road warriors.

Mark B. Lasser, a Denver advertising-sales executive, came off a Capt. Flanagan flight and posted a question on FlyerTalk.com about why the pilot had been so friendly. “I don’t trust UA at all but can’t figure out what the ulterior motive is,” he wrote.

Others quickly came to Capt. Flanagan’s defense. “I’ve had this pilot before — what a great guy. He does the same thing on every flight,” said a FlyerTalk regular.

Mr. Lasser says he just wishes Capt. Flanagan weren’t such a rarity among United employees. “Every flight before and most flights since have been so poor in customer service that this guy really came across as representing his own standards more than the company’s. He’s an outlier within United,” Mr. Lasser said in an interview.

UAL Corp.’s United, which ranked in the middle of the airline pack in on-time arrivals and mishandled baggage in the first half of this year and next-to-worst in consumer complaints, has supported Capt. Flanagan’s efforts. The airline supplies the airplane trading-cards he hands out as passengers board, plus books, wine and discount coupons he has flight attendants give away. He goes through about 700 business cards a month, and the company reimburses him for the food he buys during prolonged delays.

“He’s a great ambassador for the company,” says Graham Atkinson, United’s executive vice president and “Chief Customer Officer,” who is leading an effort to boost customer service. He hopes more pilots and airport workers will adopt some of Capt. Flanagan’s techniques such as the frequent, detailed updates he gives to customers.

Air travel isn’t easy for anybody, given problems ranging from storms to mechanical breakdowns to computer snafus and lost luggage. Airline workers have endured pay cuts and fights with management; travelers have suffered poor service and unreliable flights. Capt. Flanagan tries to deal with the cheerfulness challenge — at least on the flights he works. “I just treat everyone like it’s the first flight they’ve ever flown,” said the 56-year-old Navy veteran who lives on an Ohio farm and cuts the figure of a classic airline captain: trim and gray-haired. “The customer deserves a good travel experience,” he said.

Last Tuesday morning, Capt. Flanagan was at gate C19 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport an hour before the scheduled departure of Flight 831 to San Francisco and made his first announcement about the delay before the gate agent had shown up. The time posted for departure was 8:20, but that was optimistic, Capt. Flanagan told passengers, because the Boeing 767 they would fly wouldn’t land from São Paulo, Brazil, until 7:02 and then had to be emptied, cleaned, inspected and towed from the international terminal.

He tried to lighten the mood, using a joke he tells before every flight. “I almost forgot to tell you, this is my first flight,” Capt. Flanagan said. Wary eyes looked up from newspapers and BlackBerrys through a long pause, before he added, “today.”

Capt. Flanagan mingled in the lounge answering questions and using his cellphone to call United operations officials to ask about connections to Asia and to cities on the West Coast.

Ajoke Odumosu, a track star at the University of South Alabama who was on her way to Osaka, Japan, for a world-championship competition, realized that when she began her trip with US Airways Group Inc., her luggage had been checked only as far as San Francisco. With the delay, there wouldn’t be time to retrieve it and recheck it for Japan.

Capt. Flanagan called Chicago and learned that the luggage was already in metal containers ready for loading on the 767, and couldn’t be retagged. He called San Francisco and found a manager who agreed to pull Ms. Odumosu’s bags aside and retag them for Osaka. In all, he spent 15 minutes on the problem.

“I was glad he went out of his way, which he didn’t have to do,” Ms. Odumosu said.

Once the plane was ready for boarding, Capt. Flanagan passed out cards with information about the Boeing 767. On every flight, he signs two of the cards on the back and, if there is wine left over from first class, he announces that passengers with his signature have won bottles of wine.

When the movie ended, flight attendants passed out napkins and passengers were invited to write notes about experiences on United — good or bad. Fifteen were selected to receive a coupon for a 10% discount on a future United flight, and Capt. Flanagan posts the passengers’ notes in crew rooms or sends them on to airport managers when they raise specific issues.

Randall Levelle of Morgantown, W.Va., and his family were flying to San Francisco because his father-in-law had just died. Capt. Flanagan invited Mr. Levelle’s three children into the cockpit during boarding.

“If other folks in the airline industry had the same attitude, it would go a long way to mitigating some of the negative stuff that has come about in the last four or five years,” Mr. Levelle said.

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