Monday, December 20, 2010

Amazon acts exactly like a customer-centric org shouldn't

Amazon gets cut a lot of slack by a lot of people. It's held up as a paragon of the web2.0 age - a fabulous disruptor.

Its stated mission is to become the most customer-centric company on Earth.

Sounds wonderful.

But let's get the reality stick out.

Like so many people in a snow-affected UK, I've been let down recently by Amazon.

And when I've tried to email customer services I've found an un-usable form to fill which fails to send unless I complete an 'add your name' field - and there isn't one!!! (I generally use Mozilla Firefox for this - not exactly a rare interface with the internet...)

And when I've called, I've found a 'computer-says-no' attitude among staff - having to demand escalation to more senior people within a short but frustrating period of time.

Customer centric is as customer centric does, my friends; not as it says it does.

I'm an Amazon Prime user. At the moment.

Biggest let down for me has been a delivery of Christmas presents which I ordered to come via the 'First Class' delivery option.

Little did I know (and neither is it clear in the Amazon purchasing process) that when you order 'First Class' from Amazon they get to choose how they are going to send your item to you. I do wonder if trading standards have ever challenged this. Royal Mail ought to have a word, in my  view.

Amazon chose to send me this last package via CityLink. Now, I don't know about you, but for me and most folk I know in the UK, when I select 'First Class' delivery I expect delivery by the Royal Mail. Indeed the very last courier company I want deployed is CityLink because they have a 'local' depot furthest from me. And their website fails to record requests for redeliveries from their customers. And they don't answer the phone. And they close for pick-ups from the depot when the going gets touch. And they don't try to fix their backlogs by going out on Sundays.

No, Amazon, when I request 'First Class' I mean by Royal Mail - because if I'm not in when the the postie tries to deliver there is a depot I can go pick up from about a mile from my home.

So Amazon, I want a 'Not by CityLink (and for other folk not by x, y or z courier) option - at the very least made available to Prime users.

But why am I blogging about this rather than just dropping Amazon some customer feedback?

Well, first because that bloody email form keeps failing for me (I hate email forms with a vengeance, by the way - no record of what I sent and never a clue as to whether they are being picked up or dealt with).

Second because when I went looking for senior Amazon UK folk to make contact with they were, how can I put this, virtually absent from the internet.

The MD, one Brian McBride (you know, the chap who dropped you an email apologising for poor service a week or so ago), is not discoverable on LinkedIn even - let alone on google or any social media. It's alright for you to send your customers an email then Brian - but not to get one back?

You will find a few relevant and pertinent folk for Amazon UK on Linkedin - the Marketing Manager, for example. But their profiles are, for the most part, marked 'private' - not even a name on show.

Guys - you are operating in the exact opposite direction  of your organisation's stated aim. You cannot become customer centric when you don't listen and respond. You certainly can't listen if you don't engage in social media and you hide from contact with your customers.

No one appears to be monitoring and managing response to the deluge of outcry about your services on twitter etc right now. A real shame because there is one hell of a wikifixing opportunity happening for you right now.

You cannot become customer centric when you don't listen and respond.

Seriously, taking online payments and enabling user reviews does not a customer centric organisation make.

Step up - start listening, start responding, open your doors - then you can start leading the way to customer centricity.

In the mean time, feel free to contact me by any means you choose. I will respond.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Bringing the school report into the 21st century

A medical record folder being pulled from the ...Image via WikipediaHow do you monitor your child's educational progress at school? For most of us touch points are few and far between - a parents evening coupled with a report once a term.

There are digital means by which kids get their progress regularly encouraged and monitored - things such as Mathletics for example.

But I think there are greater possibilities to be accessed if we take a more holistic approach.
I'm thinking of your child's school progress updated live and recorded in a personal url shared between you, the child and your teachers.

This borrows heavily from ideas such as the personal url for health records - a place where your healthcare data is recorded and shared with the patient and their doctors; a place where the patients can give rapid and direct feedback to their doctors about what treatment is working, what isn't - and where the anonymised data in aggregate can be used to inform the wider medical community leading to improvements in effectiveness for all.

It is an approach being seriously considered by the UK's national health service, according to Macrowikinomics, for example.

Applied to education, parents could get more direct involvement with the child's progress - be able to identify slow-downs, strenghts and weaknesses and where their input could help most.

And again, in aggregate the data could help inform the wider education community in what works and what doesn't and how to be more effective for all kids - in much closer to real time than we have been used to.

The approach makes data live, useful and change enabling - rather than silo'd and gathering dust on a shelf.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reflections on my first 20,000 tweets

I just clocked up my 20,000th tweet. A moment perhaps to pause and reflect on what's going on here.

According to twitter I've been tweeting since June 20, 2007 but I'm pretty sure I didn't get serious with it until maybe six months later.

In any event, in the same period I have blogged 763 times. That is, for every blog post since I signed up for twitter, I have tweeted 26.2 times.

I tweet so much that Twournal (which turns your tweets into a book) can't cope. All it'll handle is the last 3200 - which I now make available for download should you so desire.

I suspect the same limitations are imposed on the word cloud I generated of my tweets. But then I guess twitter is all about real time, so what the hey?

The rate of decline in my blog posting is huge. In Jun-Dec 2007 AT (After Twitter) I posted 152 blog posts. 2008 saw a roughly similar rate/month (348 for the year). But in 2009 I posted just 159 times. And this year to this point just 104.

This is partially because Twitter has replaced one of blogging's functions for me; microblogging. In those days of 300-plus posts a year some of the posts would have been a throwaway comment and a link to something I found interesting. Now I do that on Twitter - and I can do that anywhere anytime - something which wasn't available to me on back in the day (though now is through some useful iPhone apps).

Blogging remains very important to me for a number of reasons:

1. Blogs are the least silo'd of all the social media: Anyone can find one of my blog posts. Yes with google now indexing tweets that is becoming more possible for twitter, but the 'real time results' window of opportunity for discovery is small. Anyone can discover my blog posts any time and from any where. This increases my ability to connect.
2. Blogs have longevity. What I post here remains until either I delete it or goes pop. My tweets are gone before you can say "where's my first tweet"? Most tweet recall and compilation services appear only to be able to index the last 3200 tweets you post. Pah - a drop in my trivial ocean!
3. Blogs are your personal url - a home to store and share everything you care about. Neither twitter (with its light weight architecture) or Facebook (with it's silo'd approach) can match them for that. Doc Searls said it best: "Blogs are the single best representation of the sovereign self".
4. Blogs offer more depth and exploration: Most things can be said in just a few words (hence twitter) but not all. Exploration of ideas obviously benefit from interaction but ideas also need a chance to breathe, to wander, to digress. Blogs are good at this.

Tweeting offers something new. We tweet 'the trivial' - the snarky, the wisecrack. Twitter (and trailing along behind Facebook status updates) lowers the technical barrier to publishing what we think - and in its mobile guise particularly - where and when we think it.

For example there are tens of thousands of tweets in the UK every week in which people tell us they are having a drink. I never once wrote a blog post to say I'm having a beer - I've certainly tweeted that I have.

This creates a new value in aggregation - we express our metadata much more readily, systems, brands and orgs can learn from this about what we want, what we don't like, when we want it and where. And all without positing a single question. Market research without the waters muddies by point of view.

People have always said this stuff to their nearest friends 'in the real world'. Now they publish it for all their friends - and for the world to learn from. It's giving orgs the ability to wikifix by gathering realtime expressed metadata that was never available before.

And I'm part of that - moaning about train delays here, download speeds there, reporting on service good and bad - as it is happening to me.

But that's not my motivation for tweeting - at a rate of almost 16 a day - as I'm sure it's not yours.

Neither is it a desire to gain an audience - just as that's not my motivation in blogging.

What motivates me is the desire to connect with people who care about the same stuff I do.

The trivia is there for two key reasons: First to create that connection with someone else having an 'I know what you mean' moment - or someone who has a solution or a step towards it.
Second, it functions as our rather more sophisticated equivalent of picking the nits out of the next monkey's fur - we maintain our social connectedness through small talk - the weather, the pleasure in a cup of coffee, last night's game or even - to my shame - the X Factor.

Small talk is a very very human thing to do. Twitter is a very very human medium. To succeed in it as business or individual you have to take a very very human approach.

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Is it war or just a coincidence?

Cupid's foot, as used by Monty Python's Flying...Image via WikipediaUp and down like the Assyrian Empire... as someone once said in a Monty Python movie.

As the hysteria around wikileaks and talk of an internet war heat up, every time a website isn't accessible for someone somewhere there's a rapid and general assumption that it has been caught in the crossfire.

Before you blame 'anonymous' et al, and try retro-fitting why site A 'had it coming', try a few of the following:

1. Remember that the fact that wikileaks is so high on the issue attention cycle means we're likely to over emphasise the impact and regularity of cyber attacks of the kind that hit Paypal, Mastercard etc.

2. Websites crash all the time. Usually we don't panic or look for a cyber army to blame. We wait a few minutes.

3. Then we use something like which tells us whether it's our problem, or everyone's.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Open Pro-active Customer Service: A Social Media trend for 2011

2011 is going to be the year when making/creating/doing with social media begins to gain the ascendency over messaging/using people as a channel.
And it will be customer service that leads the way.

It's increasingly high on the agenda of many orgs - and many are starting to see the value of engaging in social media to ramp up their levels of service.

Open Pro-active Customer Service delivers both ROI and a powerful reminder of the convergence required. In reality customers don't neatly sort their intended interactions with brands or orgs to fit into your existing silos (eg customer service, PR, direct sales etc).

They never did.

Now that customers have the easy ability to publish their needs, complaints and intentions in real time (not always at you, but always available to you) you can identify the areas of critical convergence, surface issues and act to build better products and services in response.

Open Pro-active Customer Service means:
  • Doing you customer service in public - Good service should be seen to be done. And it's harder to do bad service with an audience (which can always include the boss).
  • Actively seeking out customer feedback eg searching all open conversations.
  • Wikifixing: Creating dataflows to ensure when issues are surfaced they are flowed to the key part of the org for solution.
  • Being Prepared for organisational change as the requirement for new roles and shared cross-departmental responsibilities become clear.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Don't blame Twitter for bending to 'the man' - we all know it'll make no difference

If you want an illustration of the fruitlessness, and indeed illusion, of control from the centre, just follow what happens with the whole wikileaks witch hunt as it plays out.

Some of the traditional corporations, legislatures and judiciaries (and more corporate dependent denizens of the web) have rapidly folded to demands from the centre (the US and other Western governments) as that centre lashes out against wikileaks sharing information the centre feels the rest of us have no right to.

I'm not here to argue the rights or wrongs of that, by the way, many others follow the intricacies more closely and are better able to comment on that than I.

What I do know is that when Mastercard, Paypal and even Amazon pull the plug on wikileaks you know it is because they have come under pressure from the centre. And that's hard to resist when you rely on the corporate norm for your paycheck.

Tonight the ante was raised as Twitter started suspending accounts and - remarkably - removed wikileaks from the trending topics.

Suddenly those for freedom feel even the open web and its uberlords are cowtowing.

Panic not. And don't blame Twitter, Facebook or any other pressured party.

I'm pretty damn sure the guys at Twitter et al are wise enough to the self organising nature of the internet to know that a blockage here and a restriction there is soon worked around. Intelligent networks have ways of reforming.

The internet was developed to survive nuclear war. I'm sure it'll survive the best efforts of even the most zealous of politicians.

Central control is not an option. Never was.

So if the guys at Twitter or elsewhere throw the hapless politicos a sop here and there - don't blame them. They'll be doing it with fingers crossed behind their back and in the full knowledge that it'll make little difference in the very near term - that the network will reorganise and self-organise around whatever restrictions it faces.
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Monday, December 06, 2010

The social media bum steer

There is a fairly straightforward way of understanding how 'to do' social media. It starts with content, leading to conversation, forging connections, enabling collaboration (see left).

Which would be fabulous if the outcome was something other than making some more content. But the bum steer given by naming this stuff social 'media' has led many to conclude this is the virtuous circle they should follow. It goes a bit like this (left). And because of the 'media' bit the focus and majority of effort stays at the top of the circle - in the content and conversation zone: Make entertaining high quality creative ideas - get them to talk about it; Or broadcast using the 'channels' of social media - as we might otherwise describe it. Marketing done to people, not so much with them.

I prefer to introduce a fifth element (a fifth c, as it happens), which moves us away from media and towards creating something more than content: co-creation.

This places the focus on the lower half of the circle - and creates a central hub that emphasises the point of all this conversation and connectedness: to bring us together to do/make something we care about.

Making things together is what the web is for. It's also what the tools and techniques of social media are for.

Making things together because all involved care about the outcome.

I came across an example recently that helps clarify this for me. I'm reading Macrowikinomics currently. Just done the chapter on Universities.

And there is much good research discussed and good thought given to reshaping how Universities could and should function in the networked world.

What struck me as missing, or at least, misaligned, was the focus of the output . The output for education appears to be considered at the micro or individual level - how does student A get a better education? Crudely - how do they get a better CV?

But isn't the output of education a larger, more interdependant networked thing - a global problem solved, a situation improved, an efficiency achieved? Universities/Education could be (self) organised around problem solving/shared issues rather than meeting individuals' specific requirements, for example.

Using this shared output approach can help us understand how best to use the tools and techniques of social media to greatest effect for all the parties in supply chains (or supply webs) - with the intent of creating value for all parties.

Social is rarely about a win for one, more a win for many to share in.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?