Two Great Social Customer Examples From The Last 24 Hours

Got an email yesterday from Brian Dear, of

“Hi Chris…Big fan of your Social Customer Manifesto blog here…Just went through a delightfully awful customer experience with Intuit. Blogged the whole thing, thought you might find it amusing.”

Indeed! Brian blogged his whole convoluted experience trying to get his QuickBooks Pro 2005 “Slowbooks Amateur 2005” up and running, including a hysterical* exchange with a customer service rep who sounds like a cross between Jeff Spicoli and Patient Zero. The comments indicate that Intuit may have lost a potential customer or three based on Brian’s experience.

Then, not 10 minutes after reading Brian’s account, I’m listening to Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code for 18JAN2005. He not only talks about his ongoing hassles with British Telecom (BT) and EasyNet in getting the last 15m of wire put in place so he can get broadband, but records and podcasts the entire conversation with EasyNet customer service. (Click on the MP3 link; the EasyNet conversation starts at about the 4:50 mark in the recording.)

What does this mean? It means that the barrier to entry of publishing…be it via blogs, web pages, podcasts, what have you…has gotten so low that customers, at any time, can share exactly what their experiences are with the vendors with whom they are working. Not only that, but these experiences become persistent and searchable, sometimes to the point of being more visible than the contrivances the companies themselves are putting out.

Warms my heart, this does.

* – well, hysterical if you’re into schadenfreude, that is…

Doc And Adam Need To Think Different About Podcasting

Adam Curry and Doc Searls slag on the iPod shuffle and its appropriateness as a device for listening to podcasts. In an article today in InternetNews, Doc comments on the device:

“It’s neither a boon nor a bust. It’s just not useful for listening to podcasts. Navigating inside a long podcast — and many are very long — is difficult even with a regular iPod, as it is with all players. So, rather than fix the one feature that’s lame about the iPod, they eliminated it completely.”

Adam echoes the sentiment.

“Apple hasn’t picked up on podcasting because they are thinking about how things work from Apple to the rest of the world. They are not seeing what is happening.”

Adam, Doc…I respect the hell out of both of you. But blaming the device is only looking at half the problem.

The other half of the problem is in the structure of the podcasts themselves. When a broadcaster podcaster constructs a long, monolithic podcast of, say, forty minutes or so, it is a black box. It is monolithic. The only current way around this is to create detailed “show notes” to give the listener (who is your customer, btw) some visibility into the inside of this black box. This is the core of the problem, not the device. This currently needs to be done separately from the podcast.

Let’s take a step back, and look at another example of monolithic content that is delivered digitally…DVDs. The DVD makers figured out early on that they needed to break their creations into “scenes” to make them navigable. Podcasters need to do the same thing.

Three solutions:

  • The pragmatic one: Podcasters…break a monolithic ‘cast into parts, and post them separately. More work on your part, but solves the problem. And its doable today.
  • The midrange one: Create a way to easily bundle the monolithic content with a cue file or the equivalent that tells where things are. If a customer is interested in better navigation, the customer can split the podcast based on the cue file prior to loading it to a device.
  • The long range one: After the podcasters do their part to indicate the cues, Apple, Creative and others build devices that take into account the bundled MP3 and cue files, and allow random access navigation.

To dismiss the device is only looking at a small part of the issue. The onus is just as much on the creators of the content to provide clearer navigation clues into the things that they are creating.

(hat tip: nevon)

Update: Come to think of it, the midrange option could be handled inside of iPodder, iPodderX, or Doppler as well, I s’pose. Have the podcatching client split up the podcast on its way in, based on the cue file, and then automatically write out the component parts for easier navigation.

Latest Macworld Rumor — Flash-based iPod (Code Name: “Shuffle”)

(UPDATE!: iPod Shuffle confirmed.)

“An Italian enthusiast reportedly snapped photos with his cell phone of an Apple banner, normally covered until Jobs’ speech, that promotes a flash memory-based iPod. Security officers allegedly tried to chase down onlookers who might have taken photos.” (from eWeek)

Rumored specs:

  • Code name: “iPod Shuffle” or “iPod Micro”
  • 1GB storage
  • Small, vertically-oriented
  • $99-$149
  • Tagline: “Life is random.”

Perhaps called “Shuffle” since it may not have a screen (thus requiring randomly-ordered songplay).

If true, could be a very interesting transitional device…instead of being the “system of record” for audio, this instead could be a viable device for putting together a drivetime playlist. Grab the handful of songs or podcasts that you want for your commute or your jog, load it up, and you’re on your way. (Come to think of it, this would be a great form factor for audiobooks or language tapes as well.)

From the US Patent and Trademark Office database


Owner (APPLICANT) Apple Computer, Inc. CORPORATION CALIFORNIA 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino CALIFORNIA 95014

Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Computer hardware; computer software; prerecorded computer programs for personal information management; database management software; character recognition software; telephony management software; electronic mail and messaging software, paging software; database synchronization software; computer programs for accessing, browsing and searching online databases; computer operating system software; application development tool programs for personal and handheld computers; handheld electronic devices for the wireless receipt and/or transmission of data, particularly messages; handheld electronic devices with video, phone, messaging, photo capturing and audio transmission functionality; software for the synchronization of data between a remote station or device and a fixed or remote station or device; Portable digital electronic devices and software related thereto; handheld digital electronic devices and software related thereto; digital audio players, including digital music players, and software related thereto; digital video players and software related thereto; MP3 players and software related thereto; handheld computers; personal digital assistants; pagers; electronic organizers; electronic notepads


Serial Number 78528005

Filing Date December 6, 2004

Converse Customers Create Ad Campaign

“The purpose of a dotcom,” the old joke goes, “is to transfer money from venture capitalists to advertising agencies.” It now appears that the mission of the ad agencies themselves is changing. Significantly. And quickly.

Customers are now starting to own the creative.

The most recent manifestation of this comes from the ConverseGallery. (Although Converse is now owned by Nike, the company seems to still have some soul.) Instead of creating a limited number of one-size-fits-all ads, Converse has invited the rabid hordes of Chuck Taylor fans to make their ads for them. (n.b. per Random|Culture’s point below, the ads on the site are definitely high-end, and made by pros…would be interesting to see the more “amateurish” ones that didn’t make the cut.)

I have to say…the spots are brilliant, as is the process they have put into place.

Their process:

– Set up the (loose) structure for the campaign (“nothing obscene, but pretty much everything else is ok.”)
– Predict where there might be an issue, and cut it off at the pass. In this case, Converse obviously realized that music licensing could be a huge can of worms. So they obtained the rights to 100 pieces of music from a wide variety of genres that the filmmakers could use without worrying about licensing.
– Announce the campaign
– Reap the rewards

Simple. Perfect.

A few suggestions I would have for them, however:

1) The spots are brilliant, and customers may want to talk about them. There is no mechanism in place for them to do so. No blog, no forum, no discussion group. No chance for online watercooler conversation of the ads.

Easy enough to fix. Here you go, Converse. Enjoy!

2) The spots vary in theme and feel, as does the customer base. I would love a way to find out what spots others (in particular, others similar to myself) are really enjoying. A social mechanism for ranking the ads that would be most relevant to an individual would be sweet (think Netflix, think Amazon).

3) Let us see the back catalog! You’ve picked ~30 out of, what, 500 submissions? Let us see the others, too. We’ll let you know which ones are the good ones.

Although not the first (BushIn30Seconds comes to mind), this is a still a great effort, and a great way for customers to really have a converse-ation, dontcha think?

(Hat tip: Church of the Customer)

Others talking about this:

Random|Culture: “Is this deceptive marketing? These are not ‘everyday’ consumers as they would have us believe. And the Boston Herald article clearly states that they ‘solicited’ filmmakers.”

AdRants: “Whether the program brings Converse closer to its customers, gives between work filmmakers something to do or simply gets the shoemaker a lot of creative for free is up for discussion.”

Harriet Potter: “Converse emailed. yeah, didn’t make it.”

AdLand: “Films have been created by everyone: yes, from people who have craft skills, but also from 15 year old kids who have done stuff on their computer. It’s open to all.” (from the comments, apparently from the Converse ad agency, confirming that these are not just pros doing the ads)

Is A Flying Monkey With Lasers On Its Friggin’ Head A Good Value For The Experience It Offers?

“It is considered a bit bizarre to have a meaningful relationship with an inanimate object.” – Tree Stories

“Lovemarks.” Dios mio, what a load of swill.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s latest foray into the absurd starts out strong: “Brands have run out of juice.” Ok, I can agree with that statement. However, that’s where the agreement ends. Let’s examine some tidbits from advertising’s finest, shall we?

“A Lovemark’s high Love is infused with these three intangible, yet very real, ingredients: Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy…Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go.”

Um, yeah. In other words, “how can we use advertising to manipulate consumers into ‘loving’ something that doesn’t actually exist?”

Sorry, folks. Those days are done. No longer are consumers willing to be spoonfed, spun, and manipulated at your whim. Apple is held up as an example of a “Lovemark,” yet the instant that it was learned that the iPod had a significantly battery flaw, customers were talking about it and doing something about it.

That being said, the Lovemarks site does have a bright side: the “Lovemarks Profiler.” Through the Lovemarks Profiler, you can perform a self-assessment to determine your personal level of brainwashitude with respect to a particular product. I’m guessing that S&S assumed that people would use this capability to figure out how they felt about their brand of soap or something. However, one can take a slightly different approach.


Once we decide what we want to test, the quiz comes up instantly.


The Lovemarks lovefest is also taking place here, here, here and here.

In Boston Today

In Boston today for meetings. We’ll be in the Charlestown area this afternoon if anyone wants to get together for a bit before heading to Logan for a evening flight.

Lexmark Printer Bonus: Alleged Spyware

Engadget is noting that Lexmark may be installing spyware along with their printers.  ZDNet UK is reporting

You can read this helpful guide to find out more about how to avoid cybersecuriy threats like this.

The program sends the information, which includes print and scanning data, to the URL According to the Internet Whois database, this domain name belongs to Lexmark International in Kentucky.

Let’s see how Lexmark deals with this.  With they repond transparently, or will they pull a Kryptonite?

Social Networking Systems and Wikis Engage The Social Customer

Tony Perkins, creator of Red Herring magazine, has forgone the "one-way" communication of the print world and is debating with his readers online in real time. He makes a lot of typos while doing so.

Microsoft customers are spending their own time and money making unsanctioned and unsolicited videos featuring Microsoft brands and sending them to Redmond. The funny thing is, Redmond doesn’t mind.

Customers are starting to get their say. They are doing so in public forums. Their comments are unfiltered. And, more surprisingly, so are the responses of the individuals representing the companies. No PR flaks. No spin. No highly-sanitized, focus-group-approved, completely meaningless Dilbert-speak.

In other words, real people interacting with real people.

Weblogs (or blogs) were the first salvo in this new era of the "social customer." Blogs enabled a one-to-one dialog between an individual representing an organization and a constituency of readers, as well as interactions between the readers themselves.

Blogs are one of three emerging technologies that have the potential to break down the walls between companies and their customers, enabling the creation of communities and resulting in significant benefits to all involved. The other two are wikis and social networking systems.

By listening to the social customer, companies have the opportunity to create the tightest relationships between vendor and customer we have seen since the days of the corner store.

The ultimate connection?

Perkins has always been able to spot a trend. He founded the Churchill Club, a well-recognized forum for technology and business thought leadership. He founded Red Herring, one of the premier publications the presaged the rise (and fall) of the dot-com era. Now, he’s created AlwaysOn, an "open source media" property that utterly blurs the line between "publisher" and "reader," providing integrated social networking capabilities that enable readers to connect directly with each other–as well as the individuals who publish articles on the site. (Disclosure: I am a regular contributor.)

To date, most enterprise social networking systems have had limited success in bridging the gap to customers. Vendors such as LinkedIn, Spoke Software and Visible Path have created enterprise social networking systems that enable users to navigate their personal networks to find a contact within a target prospective customer. Unfortunately, these systems are very "one-way" in nature, benefiting the salesperson without necessarily providing any benefits to the individuals who are being contacted. As a result, some individuals have equated receiving inquiries from one of these networks as yet another new type of unsolicited commercial email, or spam.

In contrast, the enterprise social networking capabilities within AlwaysOn are very different. They enable customers (in this case, readers) to participate directly in the creation of the product. Because of the social networking features of AlwaysOn, Perkins says, "we can see all our readers and private-message them and ask them to join our personal network, which has brought me closer to literally hundreds of readers I would have never known otherwise." Readers can and do send messages directly to the authors of postings as well as each other, adding their affirmation or challenges to the site’s content in real time.

This linkage with customers increases the value of Perkins’ product, as customers add their opinions, insights, and contributions. Each time a reader comments on a story, all the other readers, as well as the site’s editors, can immediately view the feedback.

Additionally, because readers can "rate" a particular posting, the site’s editors have real-time insight into the current topics, preferences and trends that are of interest to their readers. As a result, readers and authors alike are able to find others in the community whose opinions they share, as well as those whose opinions they may regularly challenge.

"I think it’s cool that people can dialog about the content they read and see who the other viewers are," Perkins said. "This is the whole mission of AO, to push the ‘open source media’ model, which I think even mainstream media will have to incorporate some day, or no longer be viewed as credible."

Higher education is another industry that is beginning to embrace social networking as a mechanism to better connect with and among its customers. Alumni associations at such institutions as Stanford University, the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California have all implemented social networking systems to connect members.

The Stanford Alumni web site, for example, states that the system gives "Stanford alumni the ability to connect with friends and friends-of-friends based on shared interests, common acquaintances, professions, location, etc." The belief is that by creating networks of connected alumni, not only will the participants in the networks benefit, but also the universities will, by way of increased alumni donations to their alma mater.

Funny name; serious business

If you’ve ever wanted to tell Bill Gates, his minions and the rest of the world what you really think of Microsoft, your chance is on the Channel9 developer site, set up by five Microsoft employees "who want a new level of communication between Microsoft and developers." According to the site, the five employees created it because "we believe that we will all benefit from a little dialog these days." They said that they wanted to "move beyond the newsgroup, the blog and the press release to talk with each other, human to human."

The wiki portion of Channel9 is fertile, dynamic ground. Unlike traditional web pages that are read-only, pages in a wiki are editable by anyone who visits them. Think of a wiki as a web-based whiteboard, where every visitor to the site has been given a marker…and an eraser.

The wiki derives its moniker from the Hawaiian word for "quick."

In October 2004, Microsoft’s Channel9 site was parodied by Chris Pirillo, a member of the community, who created an "unsolicited autobiography" video of the Channel9 mascot (a foam creation with an inexplicable hands-free headset). The video showed an uncensored day in the life of "the Nine Guy," complete with a chipmunk-like voiceover. When Pirillo posted the video, he received, not the cease-and-desist order he was expecting, but a note from a Microsoft executive, praising him for his creativity and participation in the community.

The Channel9 wiki contained only eight pages when it was launched in March 2004, with placeholders for discussions on three upcoming products ("Longhorn," "Whidbey" and "Yukon"). However, in its first six months of existence, collaboration between developers who visited the site and the employees who moderate it has generated more than 300 pages of content. These pages are wide-ranging, with everything from product feedback on existing Microsoft products to a page for customers who are dissatisfied with the Microsoft browser. Other than restricting content from users that contains hate speech, the site is allowed to grow on its own–even when it is critical of its host.

Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, thinks wikis are important. He should. His company provides wiki-based collaboration software for customers such as Disney and Kodak. So far, most of SocialText’s customers are using wikis for various types of internal collaboration, some of which is in areas that directly affect the customer experience.

One SocialText customer, Stata Labs, is using wikis as collaboration mechanism to span its geographically-dispersed customer service organizations in the United States and India. According to Mayfield, Stata Labs reduced its call center costs 10 percent by using wikis to connect the first-level support team in India with the second-line support team located in the United States. A sizeable portion of the savings comes from using the wiki as a key piece of institutional memory, greatly reducing the incidents of support technicians re-asking the same question multiple times.

A law firm that is a customer of Mayfield’s "has 400 workspaces, one for each of their clients, where they securely share billable hour info, files and work transparently," Mayfield said. This reduces the time and effort the law firm needs to communicate with its customers, shortening the time it takes to resolve issues.

Put another way, the wiki may be starting to live up to its strange name.

( Social Networking Systems and Wikis Engage The Social Customer originally appeared in CRMGuru.)

The Most Important Thing You’ll Do This Year

Heinlein said it best:

“If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.”

For those of us in the States, tomorrow is a referendum. Based on what happens tomorrow (or over the next couple of weeks…or months….in the courts), we’re going to accelerate in one of two very different directions. Have a say in it.

Taking Outsourcing One Step Further

Ok, this is pretty cool. In what appears to be a successful effort to both improve customer service and reduce costs, a fast-food restaurant in Brainerd, Minnesota (yes, the same Brainerd of FARGO fame) has outsourced its drive-through to Colorado. According to reports:

As she leaned out the window of her Chevy Blazer to place her order through a speaker box, Feld was greeted by the friendly voice of an order taker she thought was working inside…Four states away in a Colorado Springs, Colo., call center, “Linda” recorded Feld’s order and flashed it onto a computer screen inside the kitchen of the Brainerd McDonald’s. Less than two minutes later, Feld drove away, a smile on her face and a burger in hand.

From a business point of view, management claims that fewer mistakes are being made on orders and turnaround time has improved by an average of 20 seconds per order.