The Social Customer Manifesto Podcast 13JAN2006

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Summary: Leif Chastaine and Christopher Carfi discuss customer challenges in switching mobile phone plans, a blogging “contest” that may be backfiring on its sponsors, Sony’s rootkit fiasco, how Thomas Hawk dealt with an unscrupulous e-commerce vendor, and a recap of the current legal challenges facing Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the ubiquitous BlackBerry device. (37:45)

Show notes for January 13, 2006

The audio file is available here (MP3, 34MB), or subscribe to our RSS feed to automatically have future shows downloaded to your MP3 player.

00:00 : Intro
01:30 : Cell phone follies
05:45 : Everyday Hogwash
11:45 : “I just want to listen to this CD!” … Real-world experiences with Sony’s rootkit
19:40 : Thomas Hawk’s PriceRitePhoto vindication
28:45 : Troubled waters for Research in Motion and their BlackBerry device
36:30 : Wrapup

Cingular and AT&T Wireless, Everyday Hogwash, Steve Rubel, Andy Beal, Sony rootkit, Thomas Hawk, NYTimes, BlackBerry troubles


In a cruel twist, the first casualties of the Everyday Hogwash contest may be project’s sponsor, SunRocket, and GMD Studios, the agency driving the project. High-profile blogger Steve Rubel, who just yesterday announced that he was one of the judges of the Googlejuice machine contest, has very publicly pulled out, stating “The Everyday Hogwash contest plays into [the] ‘online lynch mob’ meme that I have been trying to refute. I am going to back out as a judge. It’s simply not consistent with how I feel about the overall balance of the blogosphere.”

Steve’s change-of heart was driven by a well-worded missive by Andy Beal, who may win the first great irony award of 2006 for his post. Beal:

“How many of you were offended with the Forbes article that labelled bloggers as an ‘online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.’

Well, contests like ‘Everyday Hogwash’ certainly don’t help. The contest encourages bloggers to complain about businesses in hope of winning prizes. That’s terrible.

Why do we want to encourage just the complainers? Why reinforce the negative image of bloggers? Surely the sponsor SunRocket could get the same publicity by encouraging both negative AND positive comments?

I think this reflects badly on SunRocket, so, ironically, consider this my entry to the contest.”

NYTimes: Thomas Hawk Gets Revenge Over PriceRitePhoto

Back in November, Thomas Hawk ordered a camera online from PriceRitePhoto. There were several “problems” with the order, according to PriceRitePhoto…most seemingly stemming from Thomas’s unwillingness to succumb to the pressure being put on him to buy extra memory, batteries, extended warranties, and the like. Things got heated on both sides, the fulfillment of the order was dragging on and on, and words were exchanged. Eventually, the PriceRitePhoto manager, Steve Phillips, gets into the act. Thomas:

“So today I checked on my order online again and saw that it had not been routed to shipping and called the company back again. Four times I was put on hold for a substantial amount of time and had to hang up and call the company again. Finally I was able to connect with an individual who said his name was Steve Phillips. Steve Phillips abruptly told me that the camera was out of stock. When I protested and told him that it was confirmed online yesterday and verbally by his sales rep he refused to budge.

At this point I thanked him and informed him that I would be writing an article about my experience with his company. It was at this point that he went ballistic. He first told me that if I did this that he would not cancel my order but just never fill it. If I cancelled it he said he’d charge me a 15% restocking fee. When I told him that that would be unethical he went nuts. He accused me of trying to “extort” him and said that he was going to have two local police officers come over and arrest me. He then went on to say that as a “professional photographer” I should have known better than to try and buy a camera this way and that he was an attorney and would sue me if I wrote an article about my experience.”

Thomas wrote up the story, it was picked up by Digg, BoingBoing and others, and it became a phenomenon. Again, Thomas Hawk:

“I think that the popularity of this story comes in large part because the message resonates so strongly with all of us. Although in a sense it is the classic tale of David and Goliath retold, it is much more than this. We all have at one point or another in our lives been bullied and most of us have been defrauded or ripped off. The fact that so many times in the past there was nothing we could do about it makes us feel all that much better about the fact that in today’s internet and blogosphere we actually CAN do something about it.

Out of all of this, hopefully more than anything, this story will serve as a reminder to shady businesses everywhere that in the end fraud and abusive behavior towards customers does not pay. Perhaps I’m being overly idealistic here and perhaps this incident is the smallest possible blip in the greater world of internet fraud — but one thing I do know is that the power of the consumer is growing. And in a new world today with tools like blogs and Slashdot and Digg the consumer is empowered in great ways that they never have been in the past.”

Now, in the span of just a few weeks, the story is in The New York Times (reg. req’d, excerpts here) and the PriceRitePhoto warehouse space seems to have been abandoned. Additionally, according to the article in the Times, no one has picked up PriceRitePhoto’s mail in over two months. (Note: It also appears the PriceRitePhoto has been trying to reinvent itself as Barclaysphoto on Ebay, and has also registered

Thomas, I salute you. And to all the PriceRitePhotos of the world…well, there are some dishes best served cold.

(slingshot photo:, hat tip: jeff jarvis)

Amazon Rant

danah: “One of the things that i hate about the whole online vendors thing is that we’ve lost customer service completely. What happened to the customer is always right ethos? What happened to being really conscious of valued customers?”

Customer Servant

From today’s mail bag…

“Hi, Chris:

I work for a company whose business it is to handle things like technical support for large outsourced [customer support] contracts. No, I don’t speak for the company. I’m just a lowly customer servant, trying to bring a little intelligence, and a lot less duplicity and BS to the job.

While I’ll concede that a lot of the people working in customer service are idiots, and thus do their own part to bungle the experience for callers, I’d also like to point out that, in a lot of the cases where we’d like to help, our hands are tied.

If the almighty client says to do something, or not to do something, we have to obey, if we want to keep our jobs. And most of us like to eat on a daily basis, and we’re just trying to avoid being demolished by the client.”

Amanda writes the Customer Servant Blog (tagline: “Bringing a little humanity to customer service”) and is actually thinking about doing a little experiment herself.

I’m going to have the suits sit down at computers with no mice, and scroll through those with their keyboards to find the information they need.

Offtopic: Año Nuevo Video Podcast (Pt. 1)

After spending a good chunk of time over the last couple of days pulling together the Carnival of the Capitalists for this week, had a chance to pop down to Año Nuevo State Reserve with the youngsters for a couple of hours. Año Nuevo is just a short drive down the coast from Half Moon Bay, and just north of Santa Cruz. It also is home to the continental United States’ largest colony of elephant seals. From the ANSR web site:

“Fifty-five miles south of San Francisco and the Golden Gate, a low, rocky, windswept point juts out into the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish maritime explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed by the point on January 3, 1603. His diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascension, named it Punta de Año Nuevo (New Year’s Point) for the day on which they sighted it in 1603.

Today, the point remains much as Vizcaino saw it from his passing ship. Lonely, undeveloped, wild. Elephant seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals come ashore to rest, mate, and give birth in the sand dunes or on the beaches and offshore islands. It is a unique and unforgettable natural spectacle that hundreds of thousands of people come to witness each year.

Año Nuevo State Reserve is the site of the largest mainland breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal, and the interpretive program has attracted increasing interest every winter for the past 19 years. People who hope to see the seals during the winter breeding season are urged to get their reservations early. The males battle for mates on the beaches and the females give birth to their pups on the dunes.”

These animals are massive. Males run about 4,000 pounds, with the largest specimens tipping the scales at over 5,000 pounds.

They also are very protective of their territory, with the bigger alpha males asserting their dominance over smaller, weaker males at any chance. (It is not clear whether the victorious males tell off-color jokes to their seal buddies and roar off in their Camaros after these encounters.)

Link to video of elephant seals battling (4MB, voiceover from the ANSR docent).

Link to full photo set.

This is Part 1. Link to Part 2.