Archive for the ‘ Musings and Mutterings ’ Category

Customer Service is Back!

…and companies like Wide Open West are leading the way.

Have you received the personal cell phone number of a Comcast service rep lately? Have you called AT&T service lately, where the very friendly customer service rep concludes each call with, “I would just like to make sure, before we hang up, that you’ve been extremely satisfied with the level of service I’ve provided.”? Have you issued a brand complaint online, only to have it quickly addressed by a customer service rep on Twitter?

Times are changing…and for the better, it would seem.

For years, the monopolistic monoliths have gained a reputation for treating their customers like numbers…nuisances, even. Poor service, bad attitudes, lack of issue resolution. This is all presuming you had the good fortune to navigate through the automated prompts by either saying or pressing 1 now, only to talk to a real live person 20 minutes into your service call.

But two things have changed:

1.) Social media has changed the customer service landscape, as what were once private service calls can quickly escalate into very public disputes.

2.) Companies like WOW have raised the customer service bar, and their legacy competitors have no choice but to follow suit.

I recently switched cable television providers. Unhappy with extremely poor customer “service” I’ve received for 20 years from what was once the only game in town, I finally got the opportunity to make the switch to a provider who would treat me with respect, urgency and interest—none of which did I ever feel was the case with my former provider.

It was a different experience from day one. I received the personal cell phone number of sales rep, who indicated right away that she would also be my service rep. She told me to call hernot an anonymous toll-free touchtone labrynth—if I were to have any questions or issues whatsoever. (I’ve already tried this out, and the conversation has been direct, instant and personal. When’s the last time you said that about a service provider?)

Once I signed on, I was not forgotten. I received this hand-addressed, hand-written thank-you note from my personal service rep at WOW:

When’s the last time your cable provider did that?

What’s nice is that it seems that the larger companies, who for years have been basking in the comfort of their own monopolies, are starting to embrace this more personalized approach to customer service. For me, though, 20 months of trying harder does not make up for 20 years of bad road. I’m going to give the new game in town a shot; the old game had plenty of chances.

Because if it weren’t for social media, or companies like WOW raising everyone else’s game, does anyone honestly believe these companies would be changing at all? See: your electricity provider.

Doubt it.

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Keep Your Politics Off My Pigskin!

Why Punditry, Politics and Pigskin Don’t Mix

Am I the only one who is utterly astonished by the news that Bill O’Reilly will interview President Obama during the Superbowl festivities? Great! The interview absolutely no one has asked for, airing during the worst possible time!

Maybe it’ll be good for ratings; I honestly don’t know. What it won’t be good for? An enjoyable viewing experience for my mixed political family.

I figure most people watch the Superbowl for one of three reasons:

  1. They love football and are genuinely interested in the game.
  2. It’s a national event, and it’s enjoyable for the mere spectacle of it all.
  3. Who doesn’t like a good party?

I doubt there is a national movement for reason #4.) To absorb biting political analysis in real time.

Most see sports as a diversion and an escape (from more serious fare, from our daily drudgery, from the problems of the world), and the grandest event in sportsdom is the Superbowl. Why are we tainting that with the intrinsically partisan posture of politics? Is nothing sacred for us pizza-eating, beer-sipping masses?

Chances are, if you are a fan of President Obama, you don’t like O’Reilly. Inversely, if you love O’Reilly, chances are you don’t much care for the President. I, for one, live in a house divided, so you can be pretty confident that when one of them is talking, half of the room will be groaning. When the other one is talking, the other half of the room will be rolling their eyes and muttering. What is sure to follow are a few snide remarks and (please, no!) a familial political debate. Just in time for kickoff!

As marketing communications strategists, we live and breathe knowing thine audience. I can’t help but wonder who focus-grouped this idea and decided that it was tailor-made for a football viewing audience.

I, for one, am dreading it. But beyond that, I’m wondering: Who is clamoring for this? Does the country really need more political infighting filtered into our football viewing schedules? What is the target demo for this? Whose taste is this suiting? What am I missing?

I hope to miss the interview for starters.

Where College Football Has it Wrong

Two gripes about college football—the best, most entertaining sport in the land. The first is obvious: the BCS is pure BS. But that’s a yearly canard, and hardly original. The second is its replay policy. Let’s tackle that one first…

Constant Replay
I hate it. A few college coaches fought the implementation of instant play (Lloyd Carr among the most vocal) for logistical reasons and good ole’ fashioned if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it reasons. I thought, as I often did of him, he was being an old grump who was afraid of change. But I’m here to tell ya, if this is the way they’re going to do it, he was right.

If you’re unfamiliar with the policy, it’s different than the NFL’s. In the NFL, each team is granted two replay challenges per game, and is awarded a third if one of their challenges is upheld.

In college football, EVERY play is reviewed. EVERY play is under scrutiny and potentially reversible by the booth officials. You could conceivable have 10 stoppages per half, if the booth deems that many calls on the field are worthy of review. And I’ve watched games where that seems like what’s happening. Some of them aren’t even worth disputing by the aggrieved party. Some are plays that an opposing coach would NEVER consider worthy of tossing a challenge flag (which they can also do, by the way).

It’s ridiculous. It disrupts the flow of the game, it makes the whole spectacle a practice in perfection (when sports never is), and gives too much power to the cameras while taking too much away from the officials on the field. What results is not football; it’s a video game.

Why can’t they institute a coach’s challenge policy and leave it at that? The whole point of this was to make sure that games weren’t decided on one or two OBVIOUSLY horrible calls…like a TD that never was or a fumble that is clearly missed. It shouldn’t be the intent to make the officiating flawless, because it never will be. Even if they stop play to review EVERY SINGLE play of a game…which I guess they technically are…we’re never going to get it 100% right.

Can’t we all just settle for the standard that no outcomes will be erroneously decided by a blatantly blown call on the field…and leave it at that? Why go so far past what was originally fought against, to something not even the NFL would consider doing to take more fun out of the game?

Ugh. It’s for the birds.

 

PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS?!!! We’re just trying to win a game; don’t talk about PLAYOFFS!!!
Nearly everyone with a pulse agrees that the BCS is a joke. I don’t need to hash out that argument again here. But what I do think is worth mentioning is something that addresses the bowl-game die-hards who insist that the bowl system is the only way to end a college football season. (Really? Which bowls matter anymore? Why should we care who plays in—or wins—The Pepperidge Farm Tuscaloosa Nitwit Bowl? You REALLY wouldn’t prefer to decide a national champion on the field, as opposed to a computer and a bunch of vested voters?)

Aside from the championship game, which I think now plays sometime mid-March, there is nothing (aside from money) in it for any of the other teams “competing” in the lesser bowls. But a playoff system would change all that. I know. Here we go again…

Another argument I won’t hash out again on these here Internets is the virtues of a playoff system. But I have been hearing a lot about one proposed idea that I could really get behind. It’s laid out in a book entitled “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.” Though I haven’t read it, apparently what the author Dan Wetzel is proposing is parameters for a neat and tidy playoff system. It makes so much sense, it couldn’t possibly ever happen:

  • 16 teams
  • 11 division winners from all division-1 conferences
  • 5 at-large bids, selected by committee
  • first two rounds are home games, played at the field of the higher-seeded team
  • final four are three games at a destination, held in early January

I’ve run out of pixels (and energy) to fight this good fight, but from what I see, I like it. Tell me that sucker can’t make money. Tell me nobody would watch it. Tell me the kids wouldn’t like it.  Tell me that wouldn’t decide the TRUE national champion on the field of play.

Heck, tell me anything…that’s what comments are for….

My Divorce from Rolling Stone

Have you seen the latest cover of Rolling Stone magazine?

Must be that I’ve officially joined the “40 and over” crowd, but I enjoyed writing this email to Rolling Stone’s circulation department.

I have attempted to cancel my subscription for a while now, but you insist on sending me your magazine. How do I put it another way than “I don’t want it.”? I’ve done this online, via phone, stopped payment, yet you continue to send it to me. Please stop. Please, please stop.

You don’t need to send me a survey asking why, or a special discount offer to remain a subscriber. I will simply tell you why:

Your content is of no value to me. If I wanted to join the Lady Gaga fan club, I would’ve done so long ago. Ditto Katy Perry. There is nothing of use to me in your magazine, so please….make it go away. Furthermore, as a father of two young, impressionable children, I simply can’t have your magazine lying around the house. I hide it like a pervert hides porn. If the recent covers weren’t enough (naked Lady Gaga, near-naked Katy Perry, naked blood-drenched cast of True Blood), the contents would certainly do the trick (“effing a crucifix” is not the pull-quote I want my children to memorize).

So, by now, you’re getting a good chuckle at this prude who can’t handle a little edgy content. And you’re rightly conceding that, “then Rolling Stone is not for you!” I agree. Then why do you insist on sending it me? Please stop. Just make it go away. I know you want to boost your subscription numbers to sell advertising, but I have no interest in being a pawn in your deceptive media-planning game.

Please. Just make it go away.

Tom

For a little context, see here:




Comcast May Care, But They Suck at It

Friends and regular readers know well of my ongoing love hate affair with Comcast. You know, the company with the @comcastcares Twitter handle? It comes as no shock to any of you that my gripe is chiefly with the company’s customer service — or lack thereof — and less so with the company’s actual product offerings.

The latest chapter in this epic is as entertaining as it is sad. It all starts with an impersonal form letter I received in the mail:

Fair enough. Every company (especially those as large as Comcast) sends form letters. It’s what happened after that where the story gets interesting. (N.B.: Please understand that I am a “Valued Customer,” as the letter opens…)

Noting that this is “IMPORTANT INFORMATION,” as indicated by the bright orange call-out box with ALL CAPS, and as reiterated that there is “ACTION REQUIRED,” I take to the streets to do my part as the good customer.

I first go to the Web address they provide, and follow some simple prompts. Predictably, after filling out some basic information, I receive an error prompt reading, “This action can not be completed. Please call 1-877-634-4434 for further assistance.”

Fail #1: Fulfillment. I can’t take the easy step of completing the process online, as they suggest, but instead have to call a 1-800 number. We all know how satisfying that can be.

I call the number, like a lamb being lead to slaughter, only to be greeted by my deepest darkest fear: the automated receptionist. You know the drill:

  • Please enter your account number or telephone number listed on the account.
  • Para continuar en Espanol, oprima numero dos.
  • Please enter or say your account number [again].
  • I’m sorry, we cannot access your account. Please re-enter or say your account number.
  • Please provide your date of birth and the last four digits of your social security number.
  • Please say or enter your mother’s maiden name.
  • Please list or enter all state capitals in alphabetical order.
  • Please say or enter the Pledge of Allegiance in igpay atinlay.
  • Please state why you are such a fool for placing this call in the first place.

Eventually, I find my way through this labyrinth to its final destination: a place to order new equipment. How do I know that I NEED new equipment, you ask? I don’t. I only know that I didn’t “oprima numero dos” a few minutes ago, and for that, I’m extremely sorry.

I hang up in frustration.

Fail #2: Fulfillment (again). I didn’t ask to be a party to this. They sent me an urgent letter! And they have no customer-centric mechanism in place to respond to the action they’ve ordered me to follow!

As is my wont, I take my gripe to the people. Strength in numbers, and all of that. I post the following on Twitter:

I know I’m a baby, but it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to!

Almost as predictable as the first two failures, out of nowhere comes a Comcast, er… “care specialist” …like wind to the Armada. It begins amicably enough. She asks how she can help, which is so sweet of her…

It’s just that: I’ve seen this movie before. And I know how it ends. I wind up back at the 800 number only to throw my phone through the wall, injuring an innocent passerby outside my office. No thanks.

I’m not an expert in social media, perhaps, but I know what makes the customer happy. A public conversation about a private matter is not one of them. So I decide to direct-message this nice young lady (how do I know she is young? just wait!) to take it offline. No can do. She’s not following me.

Fail #3: Not understanding Twitter, the very medium she’s using to solve the issues of the day. What she SHOULD be doing is taking me to a private channel to resolve the issue. This starts by following me, then sending me a nicely worded tweet offering to continue the conversation via DM. From there, perhaps we exchange e-mail addresses, and get beyond the 140-character constraints. Maybe we even offer to call each other. Who knows? I just know that I do not need to flood my followers’ Twitter streams with this nonsense. And neither does she.

I even try to help her out…doing her job for her…and suggest that very thing!

What do I get as a response? Condescension and total lack of understanding:

I thought my response, while admittedly snarky, was enough to illustrate my point and put the matter to rest:

But no. We move on to the fourth fail.

Fail #4: Insult your customer.

HELP! I’M AN OLD MAN, AND THESE INTERNETS FRIGHTEN ME!!! SEND FOR MY FAINTING COUCH!!!

Making a presumptive and derogatory comment about the character of the customer is not a way to endear yourself to that customer. But you would think this would be plainly obvious to a member of the “Comcast Cares” team. But I digress…

Naturally, I take offense. Do you blame me?

And now I’m REALLY doing Bonnie’s job for her!

Finally, she followed me back. And sent me a DM on Twitter. And did enough checking on me to find my phone number. To her credit, she called me and faced the music. I admit, I wasn’t polite. But I calmly explained the many and varied failures chronicled above, plus the fifth, most important among them:

Fail #5: Waste your client’s time with unnecessary and poorly conceived marketing promotions. In the end, they were just trying to sell me another digital converter. I have three. Do you think they might know that, or have a record of it when we went through this rigmarole a year ago?! I suppose I could add Fail #6: Not knowing your own customer.

But here’s the thing. It’s not just that Comcast doesn’t know their customers—they don’t understand the very premise of customers to begin with. And this is why we all root and pine for the day when a competitor can successfully come in and build the better mousetrap. As soon as we are freed from the shackles of this de facto monopoly, we will be well on our way, dear Comcast. And will you blame us?

Probably. You often do.

___________________________________________________________________________________

NOTE: I, through all of this, do not blame Bonnie for a minute. The blame belongs squarely on the shoulders of the company that trained her…the company that has fostered this customer-last culture for decades. Bonnie is but a cog in the wheel.

Meet the NBA’s Next Class of Supervillains

Is “The Decision” the “Summit” of Stupid?
____________________________________________________________________________

Most NBA fans, and certainly those in Detroit, remember The Bad Boys. The team they loved to hate in the 80s. Of course, the Celtics had their share of detractors, too — Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale were all targets for various reasons, even outside of L.A. and Detroit.

Today, for some reason, it seems like the NBA is replete with players we love to love. Kobe, Lebron, Wade—even despite any past transgressions—seem to rise above disparagement, and continue to be the darlings of the NBA establishment and the media that cover (read: adore) it.

But beware the Ides of a March marked by hubris. I sense that this is all about to change.

Someone on Facebook aptly compared Lebron (in light of his hour-long, primetime “The Decision” program act of tragic hubris) to Jay Leno, both of whom (the Facebooker predicts) will fall victim to a self-inflicted PR debacle and lose much more than they intended to gain. I like that comparison. Leno, acting in self- interest, promotion and preservation, put himself at the center of a late night controversy, marked by ambition, ego and overreach.

So now we have the new crop of NBA beloveds, soon to become NBA’s next class of supervillains. The Leno case study demonstrates how quickly one can fall from media darling to public pariah. And I sense the same is true of the NBA and its A-list of celebutantes.

Has there ever been an act of greater self-promotion and display of egotistical exhibitionism than a primetime hour devoted to revealing what amounts to a five-second announcement? (I mean, some free agents are making the announcement in an 140-character tweet!) Add in a fawning gaggle of competing sponsors, an obligatory program “host” who will add little to the spectacle, an obsequiously adoring media partner (ESPN), and a bumbling league commissioner who has long since been the master of his domain, and you have the makings not of entertaining drama, but rather those of detestable and lamentable excess.

This comes on the heels of the supposedly secret but much publicized “Summit,” in which NBA’s brightest stars allegedly gathered to collude in hopes of pre-determining the fate of the entire league by handpicking a fortunate and worthy suitor to forfeit their metaphorical dowries in exchange for the honor of these elite gracing the team’s roster. To use a technical term, this is all a heaping pile of bovine manure, and it is among the reasons that the NBA is unwittingly amassing an army of detractors. Worse yet: they are forcing upon us a disconnected apathy.

Why should I care who wins the next NBA title, if a small group of players is allowed to handpick the media market to be ordained as champs? Who enjoys watching a league featuring only a handful of predictable and pre-packaged contenders dominating a field of helpless pawns in a rite of fated foregone formality? How can I bring myself to rooting for my home team, knowing that I live in a market that will never be the envy of the league’s pampered prima donnas?

Shucks, I remember when titles were something to be fought for. Now they are something to be orchestrated in the offseason. Isiah Thomas, upon being drafted, promised Detroit he would bring the city a championship. And he didn’t quit until he had brought them two. And he didn’t leave when it seemed like it would never come, despite multiple failures along the way.

Once its biggest fan, the NBA has lost me. It’s the one league with an accurate and much-maligned  reputation for officiating by fiat (If they look at Jordan with a scowl, it’s a foul.). It’s a league that recently endured the ignominy of a public officiating scandal. It’s a league famous for champ-chasing, in which uncrowned stars chase the Larry O’Brien trophy around the league by taking a mid-level salary exception to find a home that already has a title-worthy roster (see: Grant Hill, Gary Payton, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone—now Bosh, Stoudamire, Lebron).

Enough already. I like my beer cold, my T.V. loud, and my sports competitive. Three players should not determine a league’s fate. It should be the result of collective teamwork, the spoils of hard-fought competition, the culmination of months of sacrifice and training, the manifestation of strategy-meets-physical-supremacy. It should be something we teach our kids. Athletics used to represent and present life lessons. Not anymore. Not in the NBA.

So will I be watching tonight? I’ll tell ya what. I will announce tonight at 10:01 EDT if I care who Lebron selected as the lucky lady. Don’t care? I wouldn’t blame you. Why they expect me to care anymore is beyond me. The NBA might get their moment in the spotlight tonight, but please do not feign surprise, Mr. Stern, when the markets dry up, attendance flags, ratings dive and sponsors take flight. We Americans just don’t like our sports pre-fab the way Curling fans do. (Nonsensical and unprovoked swipe at the Canadians complete!)

As for me, I think I’d much prefer to watch professional wrestling next season. At least in that “sport,” I don’t KNOW who the pre-selected winner will be until the end of the match.

ESPN’s World Cup Announcers Bore

Have you been watching the World Cup, likely on ESPN?

If you’re a soccer fan, like me, you’ve likely noticed that the announcers are delivering the play-by-play action with all the panache of a pet eulogy. If you’re not a soccer fan, but have been tuning in to see what all the fuss is about, you’ve likely come to the conclusion that soccer is just as boring as you thought it was. What gives?

As a friend and fellow soccer devotee put it, “These announcers suck. I tried to watch the biggest game of the day while being forced to do other things at the time, and you’d never know by casually listening in if you were missing a bicycle kick for a goal or the ball rolling safely into touch (out of bounds).”

Lame. It’s true. The delivery has had not quite the punch of a pair of tan pleated slacks.

I get the sense from reading various reports, like this one, that ESPN was strategically trying to capture the attention of those who have somewhat aptly observed, “The best part of watching soccer on TV is the British announcers.” Meh.

The best part of watching soccer on TV is the soccer. And the World Cup is the game’s biggest stage. But to watch these announcers tell it, it’s no more an event than the Lions 7th-round pick in the NFL draft.

ESPN, in all its wisdom and strategery, sidelined one of the game’s best announcers, JP Dellacamera, presumably because he isn’t British enough. Again, meh.

Too bad. The casual fans are missing out on a real talent, and someone who could bring more excitement from the game to Joe Everysoccer than a million imperial accents. Meanwhile, the rest of us soccer nuts have to sit idly by while the Brits again invade to suck all of the fun out of the room.