Tom Peters: What Is A Customer Relationship?

Over at the Tom Peters blog, Steve Yastrow asks:

“What is a customer relationship?”

The definition that Yastrow finally offers is a good start.  Yastrow offers:

A relationship is an ongoing conversation with a customer…”

(He later offers a longer version which reads “A relationship is an ongoing conversation with a customer…in which the
customer never thinks of you without thinking of the two of you.”
  I think the longer version muddles the point a bit.  I also think the longer version is a little creepy, in a Sting/Police, “Every Breath You Take” stalker-y kind of way.  But I digress.)

Yastrow’s definition is almost precisely aligned with a post that I made here in 2005 (paraphrased: “A customer relationship is a set of linked conversations over time”), which itself harkened back to a conversation with Doc Searls back in 2004.

This is really important, critical stuff.

Creation of this type of customer relationship has a number of prerequisites.

  • Actively listening to the customer – A conversation requires multiple parties be present and interacting in relation to quote to cash and other business and customer relations.  If you’re the only one speaking, it’s not a conversation.  It’s a monologue.
  • Memory – Relationships are long-running.  They are not atomic points in time, like transactions.  As such, both customer and vendor need to be able to remember what’s been said and exchanged in the past.
  • A long-term view – Relationships (typically) don’t have clearly defined end points.  A relationship is, in most cases, intended to be an ongoing concern.

This puts a responsibility on the vendor to track conversations over time.  But let me pose a question.  For you, as a customer…if you want a relationship with a vendor, how do you track your interactions with that vendor over time?  For example, how do you track things when you’re searching for a solution, or when you’ve bought something, or when you have a question or support issue?  Note cards?  Post-its?  Excel?  Simply “remembering?”

This issue becomes extremely relevant as we move into a VRM-enabled (VRM=Vendor Relationship Management) world.  Because if we want buyers and sellers to build mutually beneficial relationships, both need to be involved, and both need to be able to contribute their portions of the conversation history to the dialog.

photo credit: AyG

VRM Rogue Wave

Tara Hunt writes an open letter to marketers:

"At every step of the way, I have to lament the fact that I was
missing yet ANOTHER item to complete my experience…yet…when I turned
around to seek out those items, NOBODY WAS THERE. Nada. Nope. Y’all
were too busy running around the interwebs sending unsolicited emails,
gaming Google search results, planting awful banner ads where nobody
wants them and setting up MySpace and Facebook pages that everyone

You see where I’m getting with this?

Now, my buddy Doc Searls and a group of really smart folks have been working on this thing called VRM
(stands for Vendor Relationship Management), which gets at solving the
issue that I’m talking about. In basic terms, it puts the customer in
charge of when the vendor can deliver messages.

Now, I know what
you are thinking: “Customers in charge? What about ME? I’m trained to
get the word out there! Haven’t you ever heard of branding?” Yep. I’ve
heard of it and I also see it declining in relevance. Truly long
lasting brands are those who build RELATIONSHIPS with their customers,
who then go off and recommend them to others they have RELATIONSHIPS
with. Those pop up ads? Billboards? Television commercials? They are
just interrupting people, which ends up annoying them. Do you stay in a
RELATIONSHIP with someone you are annoyed with? Nope.

Believe me,
this VRM stuff is not only good for customers, but it is good for YOU
as well. It puts you firmly in the position of being exactly where you
need to be (available) when the customer has money in hand, poised to
purchase. It puts you in the role of helpful sidekick. It makes you
indispensably useful."

Read the whole thing here.

The Best Policy

"Be open with customers. Be honest always, and let them
into your business. The huge upside to your customers “getting
involved” is that they will come with terrific ideas that will grow
your business and customer loyalty."
Kim Proctor

The Wizard of ID


"Early next year the government
of British Columbia plans to introduce a virtual ID card for its
citizens. The virtual ID is actually a document that will reside on a
user’s computer and will enable him or her to access any and all
British Columbia government Web sites and use their services.The
virtual ID contains a bare minimum of information about a user; namely,
whether the individual is over the age of 19, a British Columbia
resident, or a student.

The virtual ID also protects a user’s
personal information from being stolen as that info is no longer stored
at the various government agencies, but is kept at an online government
service, BCeID. In addition, the virtual ID protects a user’s privacy
as the government can’t track what sites a citizen visits. The
greatest advantage for citizens is "they have control over their
personal information," says Ian Bailey, director of application
architecture, Office of the Chief Information Officer. ‘It’s really
about control. You’re in complete control.’"

More about it here.

Very interesting indeed.  A little more poking around regarding BCeID, where we learn a bit more:

"BCeID is an online service that makes it possible for you to use your Login ID and
password to sign in securely to BCeID participating Government online services.

With a BCeID you can:

  • Sign in to government participating sites using your BCeID and a single password so
    you don’t have to remember a different Login ID and password at every website.

  • With BCeID, you don’t need to enrol for a Login ID and password at each new site
    you visit — simply use the Login ID and password that you enrolled as your BCeID
    to sign in to any participating government site or service.

There are two
types of BCeID:

Basic BCeID – Allows you to access Online Services that need to
recognize your account when you return, and do not require to know who you are. 
To obtain a Basic BCeID there is no verification of your identity and registration
is completed entirely online.

Business BCeID – Allows you to access Online Services that require
that your business organization’s unique identity must be verified and where you are
acting in a business capacity as an authorized representative of the business
(i.e. not as an individual). Business BCeID may be used by representatives of companies,
partnerships, sole proprietorships or organizations including municipalities and
not-for-profit societies. Additional accounts for employees can be created as required. "

I’m especially intrigued by this section of the BCeID Privacy Policy:

"6.1 Customers
[ed.- they called us "customers" – I like this already…] have a right to access their personal information, subject to limited

6.2 A
customer can access their own key identity information and contact information
by utilizing BCeID’s online Profile Management tools.

6.3 It
is unlikely that BCeID would hold additional personal information about a
customer, beyond that stated in policy 6.2. In
the unlikely event that additional personal information has been collected
(where unusual account activity is detected, for example) a request to review
that information may be made in writing under the
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
to the Information Management Branch at the Ministry of Finance.

6.4 All
written requests for access to personal information will be responded to within
30 business days, unless grounds exist to extend that time period. Where
grounds exist to extend the time period for responding, the customer will
receive a written notice of the extension and the reasons for the extension.

6.5 If
a request for access to personal information is refused in full or in part, the
customer will be notified in writing. The
written response will provide the reasons for the refusal and the recourse that
is available to the customer.

A clear privacy policy, an ability for customers to control their own information, a stated service level commitment for disputes?  Holy cow.  We need to learn more about this in the context of VRM, methinks.

Cerado Haystack To Support OpenSocial API

Cerado Haystack
, our white-label social networking platform for businesses and associations, will be supporting Google’s Open Social efforts in a number of ways over the coming months (more on OpenSocial here).  In particular, Cerado will be:

1)  Enabling Haystack to be a container for Open Social apps
2)  Creating applications that leverage the Open Social API that can be embedded into other applications and environments

What is Open Social?  Well, remember all that buzz a couple of months ago when Facebook announced their proprietary API that allowed developers to create applications for the Facebook platform?  Now, that same notion can take place for any site on the web.  (By the way, Marc over at Ning sums it up well, and his analysis of the implications for FB are spot-on.)

We already have an Open API, and have been long-time supporters of efforts such as OpenID.  As such, we see the release of Open Social is a very good thing for the industry and, in particular, enabling better connection with information about individuals and their activity streams and creating a standard way to integrate that information with business applications (especially customer-facing ones) is a huge step forward.

Well done, Google.

Bob Garfield: “Comcast Must Die.”

Picture_3 As a  new blog, ComcastMustDie, has been set up by veteran NPR On The Media host and AdvertisingAge writer Bob Garfield.

Garfield writes:

"Actually, I have no deathwish for Comcast or any other gigantic,
blundering, greedy, arrogant corporate monstrosity, What I do have is
the earnest desire for such companies to change their ways. This site
offers an opportunity — for you to vent your grievances (civilly,
please) and for Comcast to pay close attention.

Congratulations. You are no longer just an angry,
mistreated customer
. Nor, I hope, are you just part of an e-mob. But
you are a revolutionary, wresting control from the oligarchs, and
claiming it for the consumer. Your power is enormous. Use it wisely
(emphasis added)

In a separate post, he hits it out of the park, and echoes the reasons for the existence of The Social Customer Manifesto itself.  Garfield:

"Partly because you [Comcast] have behaved so arrogantly till now, and partly
because the world has changed around you, you now must answer to a
Greater Power.


And we have demands:

1) You
will recruit a standing panel of customers to consult, brainstorm,
complain and advise you every step of the way — from your
customer-service practices, to your billing, to your programming
content. This process, within the confines of protecting proprietary
information, will be transparent.

2) You will host a website soliciting customer feedback of every kind.
In other words, there will be the customer-delegate panel, and a
mega-panel online. Don’t sweat the flaming you will take. You will also
get a) countless great ideas, b) a mechanism for locating and attending
to hardcore customer-service issues, c) a vast increase in customer
loyalty and goodwill, and d) a vast advantage in impressing potential
customers. If you’re smart, you will also cultivate a social network of
TV watchers of all stripes who credit you for your hospitality.

Most importantly of all, you must recognize that none of this is PR
move you have to make through gritted teeth in extremis. It is a golden
opportunity to exploit the unprecedented potential of a connected
world. How ironic. You’ve been stringing co-ax for decades, yet you
don’t even realize what you’ve wrought.
Yes, that’s right, you have
created the very conditions for all of us to band together against you.
At the moment it must seem like Frankenstein’s monster, but take our
word for it:

It’s Comcastic!" (emphasis, again, added)

Juicy, crunchy, wonderful stuff.  Go check it out.

Hat tip:  Andy Sernovitz

Hot Dish

JM over at Good Morning Silicon Valley
tells us:

Danelle Azola described the exchange [with Dish Network] in a TV interview:
“I called there to let them know that our house was destroyed, to
cancel all the stuff, and the first thing they asked me was if I had a
chance to grab their receiver for the satellite dish. And I told them
no, that was the last thing that was on my mind. So then they told me I
would have to pay the $300 for the receiver. … I asked to have the bill
postponed until we got reimbursed from our insurance and she said
sorry, you have to pay it as soon as you get your bill in the mail like
any other normal bill.”

It appears there are endemic issues for the industry, though.  Cite:  Paul Greenberg’s DirecTV (er, "DreckTV") saga

Update:  AT&T/Dish Network have reversed their position.  Karl at Broadband Reports tells us "We spoke to AT&T spokesman Brad Mays, who investigated the
incident. Mays says that after the couple called AT&T, they were
transferred to Dish Network, and a Dish Network representative did not
follow the disaster policy Dish has in place. Mays ensures us that
they’ve contacted the couple, and they will not be charged for service
cancellation or equipment fees."

Desert Island Blogs

  My desert island in the sun. 
  Originally uploaded by elvis_payne.

The folks over at my alma mater have created a nifty algorithm that answers the question: Which blogs should one read to be most up to date, i.e., to quickly know about important stories
that propagate over the blogosphere?   The method they used was intended to answer the following: "If we can read only 100 blogs, which should I read to be most up to date if we want to be the first to know about something with many people blogging about the story after us?"

Here’s a link to the paper and supporting information.

And here are the 100 desert island blogs: