More Human Than Human


the human touch
Originally uploaded by max_thinks_sees.

“I am the jigsaw.” – R.Z.

I have to disagree, relatively strongly, with a number of items in Dave Taylor’s post “When Is A Blog Too Personal?” Dave writes:

“One of the great ongoing debates in the murky world of blogging is whether your weblog should be personal or professional, whether you should be revealing or private. There are, of course, many different answers and at some level the real answer is “whatever you’re comfortable with”, but I think it’s a topic worth exploration nonetheless.

Business blogging is a different story because your goal is to convey a certain level of expertise, credibility and, yes, professionalism, and that can be counter to the idea of being too personal.

One solution is to use the “water cooler rule”. If a topic isn’t something you’d talk about with your supervisor hanging around the water cooler or coffee station at your office, it’s probably not appropriate for your professional blog either.

That might work pretty well for you, but I don’t think it goes far enough, because I can easily imagine chatting about the latest TV show or sporting event with colleagues and supervisors, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for my business blog.”

I actually think the “water cooler rule” is a pretty good one. However, Dave continues:

“I have a friend who is a professional editor and writer who is also in what she calls an “alternative relationship” where she and her husband both date other people. It works for her, but when she blogged about her relationship on her professional blog, I was shocked.

She said that “I’d rather just ‘out’ myself and if it turns off potential clients, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway.” I just don’t see it that way. When you buy a burger from the local eatery, do you want to know the politics of the owner? When you get your car tuned up at the local garage, do you even care about the religious background of the mechanic?”

Here is where we disagree, strongly. When choosing a service provider, I absolutely want to know his or her context and worldview, biases and motivations, whenever possible.

Exhibit A: I will never get a Domino’s pizza, because I disagree strongly with founder Tom Monaghan’s politics.

Exhibit B: I really like the Magnolia pub, in the Haight in San Francisco. Not only do they have terrific beer, but their menu tells me this about the philosophy of the owners:

“Magnolia is proud to support sustainable agriculture as well as local farms and businesses in order to serve food that tastes better. We buy as much of our produce as possible from independent, local, organic farms based on seasonal availability. Our meat and poultry is all natural, free range, and raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. We make sure that our seafood choices are abundant and fished or farmed in sustainable ways. In general, we buy as locally and sustainably as possible and encourage you to do the same.”

So I suppose, yes, I do want to know the politics of the owner of the burger joint. (n.b. That said, there are a whole bunch of waypoints from transactions to community.)

We’re all jigsaw puzzles of varying interests, history, background and, yes, skills. For some, the Joe Friday, “just the facts” approach may be what they desire from their vendors. On the other hand, many of us spend at least a third (ha, right…more like two-thirds) of our days in our “professional” skins. Do we really want to be denying all of those aspects of “who we are” a majority of our lives? I think not, so Dave, I need to respectfully disagree with your post.

Some other viewpoints on humanity and business blogging:

From the archives:
The Business Blogging Field Guide (HTML, or PDF)

The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 27JAN2006

click here to subscribe

Summary: Leif Chastaine and Christopher Carfi discuss the American Marketing Association’s “Ahead of the Curve” session in Chicago, the marketing challenge for RSS, Salesforce.com taunts and tempts Siebel employees, launch of the “Healing Space” health and environment blog, and this week’s RIM/BlackBerry Supreme Court decision. (33:32)

Show notes for January 27, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 32MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 : Intro

01:10 : Recap of the AMA’s Ahead of the Curve session: High Tech Trends in Marketing

02:40 : What is RSS?

Metaphors:
Google search for RSS metaphors (n.b. and yes, actually these are “similes” and not “metaphors,” we know, we know…)

“RSS is like an API for content”
“RSS is like selling dogfood over the internet”
“RSS is like Tivo for the web”
“Explaining RSS is like explaining sex. You just don’t get it until you do it.” (also here)
Dave Winer

11:45 : Salesforce.com to Siebel employees: “No Future

19:30 : Healing Space health, wellness and environment blog launched

25:15 : Supremes won’t intervene in RIM BlackBerry / NTP dispute

33:50 : Wrapup

Links:

Bill Flitter, Stowe Boyd, Randy Moss, Michael Sevilla, TheCradle, Salesforce.com, Siebel, Paul Greenberg, Todd Pesek, EarthHealers, Naturaleza Foundation, eco-tourism, Craig Williams, Howard Bashman, Research in Motion, BlackBerry, Ross Mayfield, Davos, BlackBerries a matter of national security

Salesforce.com’s Latest PsyOp Against Siebel

“To seduce the enemies soldiers from their allegiance and encourage them to surrender is of special service, for an adversary is more hurt by desertion than by slaughter.”Vegetius, ca. 390 A.D.

It appears that Marc Benioff and his minions are up to their new/old tricks, this time in San Mateo, CA. Through utter and sheer coincidence, I happened to be driving through the intersection in front of Siebel’s offices today, and what do I see? Not one, but TWO Salesforce.com billboard trucks circling the building on two-minute intervals (it’s not a very big block).

salesforce-siebel1 salesforce-siebel2

The text on the trucks reads (click the pics to enlarge):

Suffering from post-acquisition syndrome?

[circle-slash through “FUTURE”]

Change your future.

http://www.salesforce.com/myfuture

(This harkens back to SFDC’s “picketing” of past Siebel events, and Benioff’s continued unhealthy fascination with both Tom Siebel and Larry Ellison.)

On one hand, this kind of stuff evokes a chuckle. On the other, Paul Greenberg had two great posts on this type of behavior that is increasingly endemic in the industry. The money quotes:

“Its time to stop this crap now – at least with me. I truly don’t care if you have some gloating piece of information on “you’re better than they are because they suck at this.”

I think that its about time for the On Demand crowd to recognize they are a major force in the business world now and they have to act like it.

Or maybe they are acting like it.

All I know is that I find the “tactic” of demeaning ones opponent rather than competing on the merits and value of the applications or services or products to the customer dismaying and disgusting.” – from here

and

“I’m going to reiterate something I’ve said before. The On Demand world needs to stop this ADD [“Attack, Demean, Degrade”] offensive. It is deeply offensive because it is just so damned childish.

What makes this dangerous is that On Demand will be the dominant force in CRM without a doubt very soon and will be the dominant platform for the customer experience over the next few years. Do you want your customer’s experience run by an industry that loves to spit bile?” – from here

Louis Columbus also chimes in with a gem: “Denigrating competitors is a sign that companies doing the slamming don’t really and truly have enough faith in their own applications to sell on the value they deliver. Taking the low road of celebrating a competitor’s misfortune makes you wonder how a company feels about valuable, yet sometimes difficult customers pushing the limits of applications and services…”

Despite the brief amusements they provide, “vendor sports” (a term I believe Doc Searls coined, more refs here) really do, ultimately, hurt the customer. Why? Because the combatants are investing their time, energy and creativity in tasks that ultimate are nothing more than the Silicon Valley equivalent of chest-thumping and locker-room comparisons instead of focusing their scarce resources on the things that improve the customer experience.

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Best Buy Apologizes For Strongarming Some Xbox Customers

Apparently, some customers looking for the best buy on the new Xbox 360 instead were met with less-than-stellar sales tactics at some Best Buy stores, with sales personnel “requiring” customers to purchase unwanted accessories as part of a bundle in order to get the base Xbox unit. Gamedaily reports:

“Console bundles for new hardware launches certainly aren’t unusual—many retailers (especially online) have been selling the Xbox 360 in bundle form only—but this practice is one that doesn’t sit well with many consumers and was not supposed to have been adopted by popular retail chain Best Buy.

Despite this, certain Best Buy stores in the U.S. apparently ignored the standalone $299 (core) and $399 (premium) SKUs and either forced consumers to buy Xbox 360 bundles or strongly suggested that they do so.”

For example, back on November 23rd, the Northwest Indiana Times reported:

“Glancing down the line Tuesday morning at the Valparaiso store, there was a sea of heads covered with knit caps or hoodies. The crowd consisted mostly of guys in their late teens to early 20s, sprinkled lightly with motivated soccer moms and young women.

It wasn’t just the weather that was unpredictable. At 8:15 a.m., after many nighttime hours spent shivering in line, a Best Buy employee announced that the unit would not be sold alone for the $399 advertised in the sales flier. Instead, those in line were told they would have seconds to decide whether to buy a higher-priced bundle, adding a game and other accessories.”

In the wake of this, did some looking around and just tripped across the following memo, penned by Brian Dunn, Best Buy’s President of Retail for North America (via Mike Antonucci at the Merc):

“TO: Open Letter to Customers

FROM: Brian Dunn, President – Retail, North America

RE: Launch of Xbox 360

CC: Best Buy Store, District and Territory Employees; All Officers and Directors

DATE: December 6, 2005

I’m writing to apologize.

While all of us at Best Buy were thrilled to be part of the recent launch of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game system – one of the most anticipated events in the history of electronic gaming – the launch did not go as we had hoped. We sold out of Xbox 360s nationwide in less than two hours, and most of our stores did an outstanding job of serving our gaming customers. I’d like to thank the majority of our employees, who provided a terrific experience for customers at the launch date. However, our promotional activities in certain cases failed to follow company guidelines. As a result, some of our valued gaming customers had an experience in our stores that was inconsistent with what you’ve come to expect from us, as a leader in the consumer electronics industry.

Specifically, customers in some Best Buy stores were told that they were required to buy additional Xbox accessories or services if they wanted one of the sought-after Xbox 360 consoles, even though we advertised the Xbox 360 console alone. I want to be very clear that Best Buy does not condone pressuring customers to purchase items they may not want or that may not fit their lifestyle. In fact, these behaviors are in direct conflict with our desire to serve customers’ needs better than anyone else, and our values of honesty and integrity.

We are currently investigating all leads about promotional practices that may have violated the company’s guidelines, and we will take disciplinary actions as appropriate. We also have reminded all of our stores about our policies with respect to launches of hot products. Meanwhile, on behalf of Best Buy, I’d like to offer a sincere apology to any customers who felt pressured to buy items they did not want.

Customers who are unhappy with Xbox 360-related purchases made in November 2005 may return unwanted items for a full refund at any Best Buy store. In addition, if your Xbox 360 purchasing experience did not meet your expectations for any reason, please email us at xbox360@bestbuy.com . (Employees with information pertinent to our investigation are encouraged to call our Ethics Hot Line instead.)

Last, I would like to invite you back to our stores, particularly later this month, when Best Buy will receive more shipments of Xbox 360s. While supplies continue to be very limited, we are truly excited about this new gaming platform, and we’d like to deliver the best of that experience to you. We promise an in-store experience that is focused on your needs and the needs of everyone on your holiday gift list.

Brian Dunn”

(UPDATE: The letter has since been posted here, with a miniscule link to a PDF buried next to the garish page navigation photograph .)

So, from both the communications and customer interaction points-of-view, a well-handled episode for Best Buy. Although a few individuals tried to take advantage of customers, Best Buy corporate is doing the right thing in not only investigating (and, presumably, disciplining) the responsible parties, but also taking an aggressive tack to make whole the customers who were affected by the issue. Of course, it would have been better if this never had happened in the first place, but still an “B+” response based on relative timeliness and assumption of responsibility for the issue. (Would have been an “A” if they had done this in an even more timely manner and made the letter to customers more visible on their web site.)

The CEO Blogging Trail

Axel Schultze, CEO of BlueRoads, had the following answers to the questions I posed in this post. Schultze:

“Very good and valid questions. Some answers:

1) Also CEO’s are human beings and have peers. So executive blogging will find it’s peers.

2) The blog will not replace 1:1 connections and relations. But if a CEO like me has roughly 5,000 personal contacts and roughly 200,000 customer contacts, touching each and everybody in person every week is REALLY difficult.

3) Ghost-Written? No! While my press releases are prepared by PR agencies and news letters by marketing and other media by other people, at least my blog is my “normal voice” :-). And one can tell by my style, grammer and the little spelling errors here and there.

Axel”

(n.b. Axel’s blog can be found here)

Point (2) is the gimme. And point (3) is spot-on.

Point (1), however, is the really interesting one. “Executive blogging will find its peers.” Hold that thought.

(context: I’m just off the plane, just back from Cambridge and Corante’s Symposium on Social Architecture. So, naturally, everything is getting filtered through that lens. More folks talking about CoranteSSA here.)

Blogs, of course, are social media. They let us connect, and converse, and interact in a human way.

Now, back to where we were. “Executive blogging will find its peers.” Hadn’t thought about the implication of that statement until I read Axel’s comment. When put through the “social” lens, what this means, to me at least, is that we’re going to start to see networks develop…visible networks…of executive bloggers. And what we’re going to see from there is the boardroom equivalent of the digital divide. One one side, we’ll see networks and clusters of interconnected executive bloggers (“peers”), who respect and challenge and publicly debate each others strategies, compliment and complement each others’ successes, and call each other out on their mis-steps.

On the flip side we’ll see the ossified companies, with their polished, impenetrable façades of business-as-usual.

Which side you think will be more successful in the long run?

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Heavens To Marketroid!

Steve Hall asks, what if there was a “Customer Conversations Department?” Hall:

“I’d…suggest the creation of an entirely new discipline headed by a director of customer/consumer conversation/dialog. The sole responsibility if this person/department would be to converse and listen to the consumers with no interest in selling product.

This is not achieved though doing surveys or hosting focus groups or through agency account planning efforts. It is achieved by talking to customers/consumers as one would if they were discussing a product at a cookout or dinner party. This is not stuff that can be rolled up neatly into a spreadsheet of a PowerPoint presentation. This is roll-the-sleeves-up, get-dirty-with-the-customer conversation.”

I.love.it. But it shouldn’t be a “department.” It may need to start that way, but ultimately every person within an organization who comes in contact with a customer:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Support
  • Product Marketing
  • Delivery
  • Executives
  • etc.

needs to feel this way. Why? Because, customers don’t interact with a silo’d “department.” And every customer has the ability to talk about his or her experience with the company via these crazy, newfangled blog thingers…regardless of which department was involved in the interaction.

Tom Hespos runs with this idea. Hespos:

“I think we can agree that comparatively few companies have made any sort of investment in opening and continuing meaningful dialogue with their customers online. We’ve got the broadcast model to thank for that. As you know, when you’re holding a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. When folks are out there praising or panning a product or brand, corporations tend to look at the problem as a mass marketing problem. In reality, most of the panning can be dealt with effectively by empowering somebody to join the conversation, actually listen, and take the feedback to the company for incorporation. Most of the praise can be greatly amplified in the same way.”

and Doc pushes it further:

“This is a provocative proposition. What Tom’s talking about here is going way beyond the rogue Scoble, or even the hundreds (thousands?) inside companies like Microsoft and Sun. We’re talking here about changing marketing’s function (or a large part of it) from messaging to conversation.”

(Be sure to check out the spot-on comment from Mike Taht, which has a couple of great thoughts on what out-of-work marketers can put on their cardboard signs.)

This is the right direction. There are a few fundamental things that need to occur to keep this snowball rolling, however.

Per the comments from the others above, execs in organizations from the smallest to the largest need to get whupped upside the head with the clue mackerel, and understand what’s happening here.

Folks on the front lines need to get out of the “transactional” mindset, and start thinking about conversations, and relationships and communities.

Systems need to change. Existing (so-called) customer relationship management systems don’t get us there. Actually, I take that back. CRM systems could get us there, if the individuals using them started thinking about using the systems as tools to track persistent conversations over time (note: link is a PDF), as opposed to being tools that sales management uses to know how soon they need to warn Wall Street that they’re going to miss their quarter. (Don’t even get me started on the whole “living life one quarter at a time” mindset thing. Grrr.)

And, finally, from the “do-ocracyside of things, we, as customers, need to be rationally vocal when we are treated poorly (or ignored). As customers, we need to continue to let our service providers know when they are screwing up, through all means available. They can’t listen if we don’t talk, and write, and start voting with our wallets when they blow it.

So, my question to you…what do we need to do next to keep this going?

Links, all in one tidy place:

Related posts from The Social Customer Manifesto:

SugarCRM Lures Open-Source Developers With Cash

The folks over at SugarCRM are hosting a contest to incent developers to make further extensions to their open-source CRM platform. According to the story in NewsForge, the project is offering:

  • $500 for the best theme template
  • $1,000 for the best business and productivity module
  • $1,000 for the most innovative module.

As SugarCRM battles it out with Salesforce.com (which recently launched AppExchange with much hoo-ha), these kinds of activities are a great incentive to enable the community to extend the offerings and tailor them to their own needs. (Sugar currently claims nearly 2,000 developers, up from 900 just month in September, 2005.)

Oracle Acquires Siebel, And Salesforce.Com Unveils New Strategy

Larry Ellison adds Siebel to his stable of acquisitions, and now (officially) goes head-to-head with his old protege Mark Benioff, who now heads Salesforce.com. The deal is for approximately $5.85 billion, or USD$10.66 per share.

What it means:

Siebel has been struggling to find its footing, and Oracle continues to look for ways to increase its footprint against SAP. This acquisition does both.

It gives Oracle a vault into the on-demand, Software As A Service (SaaS) space for CRM. Siebel’s acquisition of Upshot in November, 2003 gave it a credible entry into the market, and now Oracle may be able to put the muscle behind it that Siebel could not, to give the broadest challenge to Salesforce and NetSuite.

The timing of the announcement is interesting, and takes some of the air out of the sails that Salesforce is announcing their AppExchange market today (thanks Zoli). AppExchange is touted to be an “eBay for on-demand applications,” and has been launched at AppExchange.com. Instead of creating all the applications (a la SAP), or acquiring them (a la Oracle), Benioff aims to be the infrastructure upon which interconnected enterprise apps run.

First Skype and eBay, now these announcements. Something’s in the water today…

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Ten Things To Do While Waiting For Dell Tech Support

Crushing Jory for this one, big time.

10 Things to Do/Places to Visit while waiting for Dell Technical Support.

Brilliant. A few excerpts:

#2: “Get all of the unpleasantness over in one fell swoop is my philosophy. While you wait for Dell Customer Support, call up Sprint and try to negotiate out of the lifetime contract you inadvertently entered into when you reduced your minutes; return those obligatory calls to relatives.”

and

#7: “Have a Dell Customer Support party. Invite over others who are on hold. You don’t have to go through this alone!” (here ya go: the DellHell IRC channel – ed.)

By the way, Jory’s mom Joy just started a blog as well…The Joy Of Six.

Customer Reviews: A First Step To Conversation, Community

Laurie Kawakami writes a nice piece in the WSJ about companies that are providing customers the ability to review products on line. (Read the whole thing.) Kawakami writes:

“Customer product reviews are popular among online shoppers and an increasing number of merchants are rolling them out. But some retailers are struggling with how they should handle a flood of submissions, and in particular, negative reviews that could make it difficult to sell a product.”

Companies that still believe this are in denial. Every customer has his or her own printing press. Exhibit A…check out the top 10 posts for “U-Haul” here, which as of this writing, includes this one and this one and this one (and this one at number 13 and this one at number 16).

The last ‘graph is spot-on:

“But retailers must be prepared to keep the review process open and honest, accepting both positive and negative reviews. ‘If you get caught’ censoring complaints, he says, ‘you’ve blown so much more than one or two bad reviews. You’ve essentially lost the trust component.'”

There we go.