A Letter to Orange, Mobile Network Provider of This Parish

Here, dearest Blog Trotters mine, is a letter sent, via the medium of  ‘e’ mail, to the CEO, CMO and (oh but yes) the Chief Performance Officer of Everything Everywhere, the company formed through the alliance of Orange and T-Mobile. I’ll let you know whether I get a response.

(Still have no email on my B’Berry, by the way.) (I knew you’d be concerned.)

“Dear Olaf, Pippa and Ralf
Having been, finally, beaten by your impenetrable ‘customer service’ network (a completely new and totally unexpected definition of the term ‘customer service’ that I’d not encountered before), I am really, really hoping that you will be able to solve my Orange problem for me. (Congratulations on the company name, by the way – genuinely visionary and grandiose. If only it wasn’t the complete opposite of my experience to date.)
A long story short – as I’m sure you’ve all got better things to do (I know I have) – I’ve been a genuinely loyal customer of Orange for over 10 years and, to date, while it’s been (with hindsight) a bit pricey and I don’t like being sold insurance that I don’t need, I’ve been happy with it. Never even considered moving. Over the last four days, however, all of that has changed – rarely have I felt so powerless in the face of complete corporate ineptitude. Seriously, guys, whoever designed your call handling systems, the automated responses and the customer-facing website functionality should be tracked down and punished, in a cruel and unusual way. And so should the person who sold you the idea of outsourcing your call centres (I’m guessing that they are outsourced) – as the systems don’t work and even if they did, the call centre staff don’t have the knowledge to do anything with the account data the system is supposed to provide. I suspect it’s cost-cutting and lack of forward planning – but, whatever the cause, it’s frustrating and it will lose you business.
So – I’ve got an upgrade to a new Blackberry device. There was a slight delivery snafu, but it arrived. I’d been told to ring a number to activate the SIM. Did that on Sunday – the rather irritating call centre chap told me I should have done it online (incidentally, when I DID try to do it on line, the service didn’t work), but then said he’d be able to sort it out. Monday morning – not done, so I called again. Monday afternoon, nothing happening, called again, assured that a supervisor would be activating my SIM. Late Monday afternoon, call again, recorded message tells me that a problem precludes me being connected to an operator, and I should call back. Monday evening, nothing doing, call again, put on hold for 20 minutes, then cut off. (Meanwhile, and while I’m on a roll, why do I have to go through umpteen ‘if you want this, press that’ prompts, every time I ‘phone, when I still end up with the same lacklustre call centre staff, all of whom (without exception) have to contact someone else to address my query? And what, in the name of all that’s holy, is a ‘magic number’?)
Tuesday morning – hallelujah – SIM activated. Attempt to connect to my internet email accounts. Wah-wah and, indeed, oops. Either I’ve got a purely enterprise device, not allowing (as I’m sure you know) connection to internet mail accounts, or I’m being stupid. Let’s take the latter option – it’s been known. I visit your Orange website – again, do you know how difficult and painful it is to find things on that site? Couldn’t find anything helpful. Today I braved your call centres again, looking for a resolution to the problem – who knows (not me) maybe Orange can tweak the B’Berry enterprise software and provide me, remotely, with a consumer-facing device. Suffice it to say, your operative either couldn’t, or didn’t, address the issue. Nor did she call me back when she said she was going to.
So, here I am, with device, without email. Perhaps unfortunately, I tend to rely on email to keep me in touch with career and business opportunities, so I’m a little stifled right now. Two questions:
How has Orange come to this? It was brilliant – now it’s rubbish. Is this the Everything Everywhere influence?
Can you sort this out for me – or do I, and with regret, take my business elsewhere? I know I’m just one punter, but on the basis of my recent experience, I won’t be the last.
Perhaps a little less spend on marketing and a little more on nuts and bolts and getting the experience right.
All the best
The Wordmonger
PS And, lest I be accused of not making enough effort (sigh), yes, I have emailed Orange, via the same difficult website, twice, once asking advice and once complaining. No response to date. I know it says ‘a response within 48 hours’ – but, really, 48 hours? In today’s social media-driven world? Time for reflection, I think.
PPS I know I wrote, earlier, ‘long story short’ – but, well, hey……….”

Reinventing Online Shopping With ‘Social Commerce’

Thanks to The Globe and Mail (Toronto) for this article published yesterday, entitled ‘Retail Giant’s @Walmartlabs plans to reinvent shopping with ‘social commerce’.  You can read it by doing the light clicktastic on this word here.

Working in retail in 2000, as I did, one of the questions that ‘brick-and-mortar’ retailers were often asked was ‘do you feel threatened by the rise of e-commerce?’ To which the answer was ‘no – people will always want to experience real goods, in real time, in real surroundings, sold by real people.’ At the time they were right, the tech bubble imploded and things (briefly) went back to how they were.

But, d’you see, we got it wrong – both the question and the answer. We got the question wrong because we didn’t know what to ask – social media had not been invented – and we got the answer wrong because we could never have imagined how reliant people would become on the opinions, statuses, needs, wants and ill-informed dogmatism of others.

The question now is – as a ‘brick-and-mortar’, offline retailer, do you feel threatened by social media?’ And the answer really should be ‘yes’. When Walmart are bringing social media to the in-store shopping experience (want a review of the microwave you’re looking at? Post a message – a member of staff or another customer will respond to you. Want to know where the peanut butter is? Post a message – someone will respond) then you can be certain that this – or something like it – is the future.

And as for the boy turd Zuckerberg – yes, of course he’s in on it. To quote the article – ‘this is where Shopycat comes in. The Facebook application uses social media profiles and comments to generate gift ideas’. Back to Walmart’s breathless tech spokesperson, Venky Harinarayan. (No disprespect to Venky, he (or she, I suppose) has already made a sizeable fortune selling Walmart a thing called Junglee, a shopping comparison site. Well done, that capitalist.)

“It is becoming clear to us that one of the shopping behaviors that people have that is inherently social is gifting. We are building a product that we believe makes peoples’ gifting much more efficient, because all of your friends and family, within reason, are on Facebook. We are leveraging that information to help you buy better gifts and make it easier for you. We believe gifting and social networks are fundamentally made for each other, so getting that right over the next year will be important to us.”

D’you know, snorkellers mine, I’m going to leave it there. I’ll let you work out the number of different levels on which this is just so wrong.  I’ll start you off.

‘Efficient gifting.’

Told You So.

Now, dearest blog trotters, I am not one to say ‘I told you so’. Nope. Hold my tongue and never take pleasure in other people’s discomfiture, those are my watchphrases. (Is discomfiture a word? Or a sort of anti-fruit preserve?)

Anyway. I told you so. Oh yes I did.

Here’s the headline – ‘Facebook won’t become e-commerce force, analyst says.’ And here’s the link:

Told you so.

Corporate Reputation – Toyota And The Need For Purpose

I am very fond of the internet. (Even though, obviously, I don’t know all of it.) It’s mostly the way that things just crop up, without one necessarily looking for them, which provide insight into, and opinion on, stuff that is instantly resonant and relevant. There’s always someone out there in webworld who sees the connection between events and best practice, in any field, or sector, or discipline, even when you haven’t. Everything I’ve just said here is, of course, stating the obvious – that’s what you’d expect from the feral communities engendered by the net – and it’s not that which astounds. No – it’s the serendipity with which the net throws things one’s way – almost as if there was some sort of a fate lending an ethereal hand.

Most likely, it’s to do with quantum. Algorithm’s gonna get you.

Anyway – here’s a piece that I think is splendid. It’s from a blog called Decision to Lead – Expanding the Practice of Leadership and it’s by a lady called Frances Frei, who is (according to the blurb) ‘Harvard Business School’s resident expert of service excellence’. Which, to my mind, gives her a bit of gravitas.

The piece is about the whole ongoing Toyota situation of which we are all aware, even if we’re not sure how many cars have been recalled and what, exactly, they’ve been recalled for. Mechanical bloopers, shall we say. Frances comes at it from the angle of what I will call ‘corporate religion’ and what she calls a purpose. You can read the post yourselves, dear blog snorkellers, but Frances posits that Toyota lost its focus on its corporate purpose of ‘improvement’ – improvement of its product and improvement in the way its product was constructed. From the pursuit of this purpose came business success – sales and profits. Toyoat lost its focus – or rather its focus shifted, from improvement as a corporate purpose, to sales and profits as goals in themselves. As these became the goals of the company, so corners were cut, so the pride and motivation of the workforce became less – and it was then but a matter of time before what happened, happened.

It’s a great lesson – shame that it takes a global product recall, and its affect on the consumer, to teach it. The lesson is that businesses and organisations that have true longevity, that are the ones that enjoy enduring success (in the form of sales and profits), that are the ones that engender respect and admiration in their stakeholders – these are businesses for whom sales and profits are not goals in themselves. They are function of the bigger corporate purpose – the mission, the vision, the intent, the corporate religion – whatever you’d wish to call it. With a clearly defined and articulated purpose comes pride and motivation and – yes – reward for the people that make the business or organisation run.

(PS. Lest I be accused of being an unreconstructed, irredeemable hippy, I know that there are industries and business sectors where the purpose is nothing more or less than profit, and the people who are involved in them are wholly subsumed in the pursuit of the purpose – banking, mostly. I will be hippy-ish, mind, and ask whether we’d be in such a global economic bind right now if, perhaps, the bankers had had another purpose, other than sheer greed.)

(PPS. The need for corporate purpose has been around forever. I say this to prevent anyone trying to tell me that it’s part of the New Age of business, where everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice is important, which has been brought about by that life-changing, world-shaping phenomenon, social media. Horse droppings.)

Corporate Communications – Power Of The People, Not Power Of The Media

Recently I posted about Starbucks and its amazing transformation – a 200% rise in profits over a three-month period – and how it appeared to be driven by a) the return of Howard Schultz (undoubtedly) and b) an emphasis on great, best-in-class, employee and customer relations. True, S-Bux has more than five million Facebook fans and 700k Twitter followers, but the reality is that the ‘conversations’ that are taking place there – while no doubt translating into some level of sales – are in no way responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Big Coffee’s fortunes.

No, they are not. But it didn’t take very long before some socmed evangelista leaps on the bandwagon and attempts to imply that they are and – more – that Howard Schultz prefers social media over other marketing channels. I was alerted to this frightening opportunism by this post on Steve Virgin’s blog, which directs you to the piece in question – here – at BrandRepublic.

The argument, which is used to engender and foment one of my least favourite discussions (‘Why do some people get it, and others don’t?’ – more of it later), is based on an interview that Schultz gave to Marketing Magazine – which you can read here.

(Sorry, dearest blog snorkellers mine, I know this is a lot to be dumping on you, late on a Wednesday afternoon, but it is important in our crusade against the spurious lionisation of social media as a tool for business benefit.)

In the interview, Mr Schultz was asked ‘Which one (marketing) channel will take precedence?” – a leading question, of ever there was one – and his answer was really quite clever. He said “I think social media is a natural exten­sion of our brand because we want to do things that are unexpected, and to speak to all sorts of people who are engaged in social media. It’s tough to measure but there is an incremental benefit to sales.”

And he’s right, there is an incremental benefit to sales – but notice he’s careful not to go overboard in terms of what that incremental benefit is. He also, tellingly, qualifies his answer by saying that social media ‘is a natural extension of (the Starbucks) brand’ – ie it is suited to the Starbucks brand, but not necessarily suited to other brands. He also, even more tellingly, doesn’t actually answer the question – he doesn’t say that social media is the channel that ‘will take precedence’. To put those words in his mouth is careless misinterpretation.

And, as promised – here’s a thought on that ‘getting it’ question. (Apparently, according to an Internet Advertising Bureau study, only a fifth of marketers see social as core to their marketing strategy.) Some brands, businesses or corporations don’t seem to ‘get it’ because they don’t need to. It is not right for their brand or business. It is not – in Mr Schultz’s words – ‘a natural extension.’ It really is as simple as that.

Corporate Communications – The Power Of The People

Last Wednesday, Starbucks, the coffee company, released its first quarter results. They showed a four-fold increase over the same quarter last year against, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, a fairly appalling economic background. You can read the commentary in the New York Times for yourself.

As someone who doesn’t follow the company, I find this renaissance absolutely extraordinary. The two most recent things I recall about Starbucks is the company (falsely) being accused of not supporting American troops in the Gulf, and the furore over wasted water from ‘rinsing’ taps being left permanently ‘on’ in stores.

Obviously, and I’ve done a little light research, there has been stuff going on behind the scenes – and the return of Howard Schultz to the top job has obviously paid dividends – but I find the reasoning laid out in this post (on the Corporate Eye blog) particularly resonant.

In brief, top-line summary, it argues that the Starbucks turnaround has been driven by paying attention to employees. It cites an HR Guru, Kevin Wheeler and his Five Steps to Making Your Company Memorable:

  • Gain perspective and know yourself
  • Define the promise
  • Develop a strategy
  • Create a “buzz” to communicate your brand
  • Measure your progress

More than this – and this where I find myself violently agreeing – it’s about applying these same principles to your customer relations. What works for getting and keeping staff, works for getting and keeping punters.

And as, of course, this wouldn’t be my blog without a quick pop at social media – Starbucks appear to have achieved this dramatic success without too much Facebookishness of Twittery (they have 5.6m fans and 765k followers respectively). Have a look at their Facebook page, and gauge for yourself the quality of the conversation – visit their Twitter feed and (sorry Brad) well, it’s not exactly a marketer’s wet dream.

No – my feeling is that Starbucks has achieved this through good ol’ traditional communication, traditional face-to-face and lashings of loyalty-building.

I never though I’d see the day when Big Coffee would become a case history. An example of best practice ‘how to do it’ des nos jours.

Hats off, blog snorkellers.

Social media – Privacy No Longer The Norm

Coming a bit late to this – although I have used it as a platform for my opinions on the validity of ‘the conversation’ (in summary, ‘the conversation’ is just another pair of Imperial undercrackers) – but, for clarity, this is Mark Zuckerberg’s much-vaunted assertion that: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

My personal take on this remains that simply because anyone with internet access (59% in the UK) has the opportunity to post to social media, this doesn’t mean that they’ve also been magically granted the capability to do so. There is – and I’m working on the laws of probability here – a vast swathe of users out there who simply do not understand what they are doing and have no concept of the implications of posting personal details on a free-to-access web portal.

Some people have ‘gotten comfortable’, others are neither comfortable with, or uncomfortable about, sharing information openly and with more people. Many, I’d wager, have yet to grasp that when you stick something on the net, anyone can see it and – possibly worse – there are all sorts of organisations, agencies and groups who are actively looking for it. So-called privacy controls on social media sites are, currently, no more than lip-service – not obvious, not understood, not used.

Anyway, that’s me – and here’s a post from a gentleman by the name of Ed Hartigan. The post sort of reiterates what I’m saying but, all credit to Mr Hartigan, he takes it a bit further. What is genuinely interesting, however, is his reference to VRM (Vendor Relationship Management for those few of my blog snorkellers who didn’t already know) which I’d not come across – as a specific discipline – before. Obviously, I’d given thought to some of the suite of VRM tools before, from a consumer’s point of view, but I’d not seen it as a specialism in its own right.

It’s interesting because it’s wholly the product of business’ inability to behave ethically and the consumer’s inability to deny themselves or consider the implications of their actions. VRM exists to combat CRM – which, after all and despite what its name implies, is a sales tool, wholly reliant on being able to prise a potential customer’s personal details out of them.

Strange, isn’t it, that in this age of social – which, let’s not forget, is all about openness and transparency and the conversation – where it’s all down to individual relationships and contracts – where brands have to humanise – that VRM mechanisms need to be put into place to protect consumers from rapacious brands that, given half the chance, will spam them out of existence.

But what really pisses me off is that because business cannot stop being business, and no matter what it says, will continue to try to use social media to turn a profit; and because Percival D Consumer cannot stop being a turkey and spilling his life history at the drop of a freebie, we, the sane minority, will have to start dealing with yet another new-consultant-on-the-block.

Social media gurus, meet the Vendor Relationship Managers. I hope you’ll be very happy together.

Social Media – What Value Conversation?

After my recent assertion that all this ‘conversation’ voodoo was little more than the next great excuse for not doing very much at all (and being paid, often quite highly, for not doing it) – my reasoning being, simply, that ‘conversation’, as she is hyped by the social media gurus, doesn’t actually exist – I come face to face with this. It is a listing and explanation of the ‘ten most common stages that businesses experience as they travel the road to full social media integration’, created by someone called Brian Solis, who, apparently, is a principal at new media agency FutureWorks. (Should you be the sort of terrifying masochist who seeks out opportunities to peel your fingers or pick at your eyes with fishhooks, you can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.)

Frankly, dear blog snorkellers, where do I start? It’s delusional and, if it got into the hands of the weak-minded (you’re not weak-minded, are you?) could be seen as dangerous. Take this, for example:

“At last, 2010 is expected to be the year that social media goes mainstream for business. In speaking with many executives and entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed that the path towards new media enlightenment often hinges on corporate culture and specific marketplace conditions. Full social media integration often happens in stages — it’s an evolutionary process for companies and consumers alike.”

What on earth does he mean – goes mainstream for business? No-one, as yet, and as far as I can see, has managed to make business out of social media. Not even the social media owners are actually making money out of it. Does no-one remember the dotcom bubble of 11 years ago? It’s not the messiah, people, it’s a very naughty boy. 2010 will not be the year social media goes mainstream for business – it might be the year when business pisses away a significant proportion of its total marketing spend following the advice of Mr Solis and his peers, however.

I also cannot help but noting the use of the phrase ‘the path towards social media enlightenment’, deliberately imbuing his subject with some quasi-religious significance and tacitly implying that those who do not run towards social with open arms are both unenlightened and somehow heathen.

And then there’s the assertion that ‘full social media integration often happens in stages’ – as if it’s something that happens all the time, the new normality, an inevitable metamorphosis that will change us all – thereby bestowing credence on what are, after all, little more than crackpot theories.

And that, gentle readers, is just the content of the first paragraph. There’s pages and pages of this insidious and infectious nonsense. It talks about “the conversation” (as you’d expect it would), it talks about ‘finding a voice and a sense of purpose’ and it talks about “humanising the brand”. It goes as far as to suggest that social media both merits and may cause an organisational transformation, in which it is imperative that teams and processes support formal Social Customer Relationship Management programmes.

To be fair, the document pays lip service to the concept of metrics to measure ROI – volumes, locations and nature of online interaction – but at no point does it address true value-adding business goals, such as selling more product, dispensing more counsel or lending more money. In fact it goes as far as to say ‘we report to executives who may be uninterested in transparency or authenticity – their goal, and job, is to steer the company toward greater profits’ as if there’s a special type of person whose job it is to worry about profit, while the rest of us get down and dirty having conversations, creating communities, listening, responding and adapting our products and services.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is here and it’s (probably) here to stay. Ignore it at your peril. But it is not that important. It is not something that has to permeate your business, brand or organisation at all levels. It is not the future of communication as we know it and it is not an excuse to stop what you’re doing now and enter some Utopian world where no-one’s responsible, there’s no control and you simply have to go with the flow – because this is bigger than all of us, man.

Horseshit! Wake up! This is the call of the sirens and the more you listen to it, the more chance you’ll throw yourself overboard and drown in a sea of endless, meaningless ‘conversation’.

Crisis Management – The Idiot’s Guide To Creating A Plan – Eurostar

Ooooooooh, ouch. Eurostar provide an object lesson for everyone in how not to do it. The reason I come to this now is because of this piece – which I have lifted from Steve Virgin’s blog (most excellent, by the way, wholly recommended) – which details Eurostar’s commercial and marketing reaction to the – well – cock-up, frankly.

It mentions their social media concerns and demonstrates that social media was not included in their crisis management plan. Oooops.

It simply isn’t something you can ignore. Be prepared – or be prepared for the consequences.

Corporate Communications – The Authentic Enterprise

Found this down the back of the internet. It’s a report – entitled The Authentic Enterprise – from  the Arthur W. Page Society (an American organisation for the promotion and betterment of public affairs and corporate communications professionals). It examines the changing nature of a business’ relations with its publics and what it needs to do to adapt to, exist in and survive today’s world of open and transparent communications. I should say – it’s from 2007 – but I hope the following exerpts will intrigue you as much as they intrigued me. It’s genuinely quite sensible.

“The quality of the company’s products and services (or lack thereof) is apparent to all customers and potential customers. Its treatment of employees and retirees is visible across the corporation and to potential employees and public interest groups. Its citizen ship, environmental behaviour, corporate governance standards, executive compensation practices and public policy recommendations are transparent to all.”

“A company must be able to answer such questions as: What business are we in? What markets do we serve? What differentiates us as an employer, an investment, a partner, a neighbour? In what do we deeply believe? What will endure? What do we value? And how can we ensure that everyone associated with the far-flung enterprise understands and acts in accordance with our mission, values, goals and operating principles?”

“However, building a management system based on values is a significant challenge.”