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.


Killing Marketing As We Know It

I love how SUN’s President & COO, Jonathan Schwartz, dispenses with the boring, uber-sterile traditional glossy marketing approach and just tells customers what’s going on.

For example, the organization has recently begun selling their systems directly on eBay. Instead of overdone PR, he states what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how it affects their strategy, customers, and partners (and, not incidently, this move also gives them perfect information on the true market price of their systems). Schwartz also uses it as a bully pulpit to raise doubts about SUN’s competitors. He also dimisses a minor confidentiality leak that took place when the marching orders he gave ended up on a t-shirt wearing dog.

What SUN has done goes beyond simply giving their fromage grand a microphone, however. They actually have set up an environment that is is accessible to any Sun employee to write about anything. Sports. Music. One of their bloggers, “Mary,” even states “I use this blog to explicitly and without apology market to you.”

SUN is in the process of killing Marketing as we know it and, in the process, is getting closer to their customers

(thanks to Rick Klau for the lead)

Real Life Example: Using Social Software To Reach Customers

How did this happen? While most commercial businesses are still trying to figure out the basics, a state government agency in Utah has put up a great example of how to use social software (in this case, a blog) to better connect with customers.

This eGovernment site goes into the details about how they are using their weblogs as a customer relationship management tool:

“…we have a group blog that is accessible by PIOs and others from multiple state agencies to generate the news for our State business portal. We have other multi-party blogging ideas in the works.

We may even use blogging as an inexpensive, easier and more effective way to do customer relationship management / contact management for an internal service fund. For example, each customer agency becomes a category in the (internal facing) blog. People post to the blog category any time they have contact with that agency. Managers and CRMs can subscribe in their aggregator to those agencies (categories) that they have an interest in. Add a search engine to the blog for additional power. You have an effective solution in hours or days rather than months.”

Nicely done! Since our friends in Utah are doing so well in this regard, I would suggest setting up an enterprise social networking conference here as soon as a possible.

Biz Blogging Takes Off

A lot of thoughts today on blogging as a way to bring an enterprise and its customers closer together. Building on the internal/external model of blogs, I think that blogs (and all social software) can bridge the gap in four different ways.

1) Enterprise to customers
2) Representative with customers
3) Enterprise with customers
4) Customers with customers, sponsored by the Enterprise

(“to” implies a one-way information flow, “with” implies a conversation)

However, to round out the internal/external way of looking at things, we might want to think about the “external” interactions through the more traditional viewpoints of sales, marketing, and service. Some examples:

Potential Marketing blogs, in addtion to “branding”
– Product direction
– Uses of existing products

– Case studies of existing customers
– Calendar of events

Potential Sales blogs
– 1:1 blogs between representatives and customers/prospects
(question: would you be more likely to interact with a sales rep if he/she had a blog?)

Potential Service (or Support) blogs

– User groups (discussions among users)
– Problem resolution
– Publication of new features / updates

Any others anyone can think of?

From the “timely!” department…as this post was being put together, also saw that there is a new set of thoughts on Creating Customer Evangelists that may merit a deeper look.

(from Fredrik Wackå, via Ross); and,

(from Church of the Customer, via Nova)

Enterprise Social Networking, Blogging Key Customer-Facing Growth Areas

A new report entitled Online Communities in Business contains some great information on how the use of collaboration technologies in business is predicted to evolve over the next 1-to-5 years. Many-2-Many points out that one of the biggest challenges, however, is (still!) measuring ROI; would love comments from anyone who has a novel and/or effective way to do this.

According to the report (pdf here)

“In terms of growth, in the one-year timeframe, teamrooms, weblogs, and social networking show the biggest expected gains”

for customer-oriented and customer-facing collaboration, which covers Customer Care, Marketing and Sales, as well as New Media/Publishing.

UPDATE on the Microsoft CRM debacle: Lead story on CRM Buyer today indicates that Microsoft is starting to contact their CRM customers directly to try and manage the situation.

”News” Site Fark Accused By Customers Of Below-Board Practices. General Crankiness Ensues.

Ultra-popular web destination Fark has been accused of seeding their headlines with sponsored links without noting for readers which stories are sponsored and which are not.  The result is a potential blurring of the line between editorial and advertising, according to this rant by Jason Calacanis.  According to Calacanis — who was also a potential advertiser on Fark:

"I was shocked…all this time I’ve been reading Fark.com it turns out that some percentage of the stories are paid for…I feel like I can never trust Fark again.

The stupid part about all this is that Fark.com could easily just put ‘Advertisement’ by the stories and their readers would click them 2x as much just to support Fark. It is so dumb."

After the discussion continued in this followup, the story was picked up by Wired News and Drew Curtis of Fark finally comments on the situation, saying:

"Wired called me the other day and asked me a few questions about Calacanis’ comments regarding an ad representative selling links. I gave no descriptive comment because I’m not in the habit of airing difficulties that I have with individuals."

The feedback on the issue is polarized.  In reading through a number of the comments on both sites, some readers of Fark seem to feel that this issue is a tempest in a teapot — they don’t care if the links are sold, as long as they still find them entertaining.  Others seem to feel that their trust was betrayed, and they will stop visiting the service.  Additionally, one potential advertiser — read "customer" (Calacanis) — has gotten into a web-based shouting match with a company that he originally wanted to spend money with.

This is a case where the vendor (Fark) has chosen secrecy and a non-committal approach over transparency, and in the process has alienated a vocal group of readers and advertisers.  From where I’m sitting, Fark’s Curtis needs to come clean and explain what’s going on as to not erode his brand’s credibility any further.


What About Our Relationship?

More voices chiming forth on what really matters in Sales Effectiveness. Are you ready for this? It’s all about…relationships (you know, people getting along together), not technology.

Aberdeen’s Chris Selland has put out a new report on sales effectiveness that shows that collaboration is key. A good point to note is:

“The report also found that it is often lesser-known technologies — such as social networking, incentive management, ‘point of close’ tools and marketing process enablers — which have the greatest impact on sales effectiveness.”

Addtionally, today Denis Pombriant answers the question “What’s Next In CRM?” and again…surprise!…it’s not about technology.

“Although a lot of progress has been made in CRM, the technology suite
is still largely a transaction-oriented one. As I have said before, current CRM does a great job of helping management but not necessarily a very good job of building the customer relationship.”


(BTW…bonus points to the first person who knows what cult classic the phrase “What About Our Relationship?!?!!” came from…)

”They’re Like Locusts!!!”

Call me crazy, but when a customer describes your sales staff in terms of a Biblical plague, it’s pretty safe to say something is amiss.

The back story…I was speaking with a colleague this evening. This colleague, a medical doctor, is a partner at a successful practice with a staff of about thirty physicians and support staff. We were getting caught up after not being in contact for a while, and the topics covered the standard range of fare from family to children to vacations. Then I made the fatal mistake of asking “how’s work?”

Then came the rant from which the title quote was pulled.

Apparently one of the drug companies that commonly sends drug reps to their location to deliver samples and talk up their wares now has not one, not two, but EIGHT reps covering their office. One rep for each of the eight drugs that they sell into this market.

You think this is an industry that’s in need of some improvements in how their sales teams go to market?

Social Networking, Business, And Sales

Xeni Jardin has just written a great article for MSNBC called “Online Social Networks Go To Work” that focuses on Enterprise Social Networking. It’s great to see this starting to make it out of the realm of arcana and emerge into the broader business context.

From a “how does this matter to customers?” perspective, UC Berkeley’s Danah Boyd nails the crux of it:

“Salespeople know how to work their black books to make sales, and rolodexes can be a businessperson’s best asset. These Web sites just take that online.”

Ultimately, it’s all about the relationships between customers and the people who are trying to serve them, ain’t it?