Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Thursday Night at the Airport

This should be a twitter, but the WordPress guys haven’t jomped on that bandwagon.  Anyway, long day at the Virtual Worlds ’07 conference, but well worth the trip.  Too tired to write about it now, but will provide an update tomorrow.

blonde-solstice.jpg

In the meantime, if you want to see a pretty cool and unexpected corporate build in SecondLife, check out Pontiac’s Motorati Island

Virtual Worlds ’07 – Day One

courtesy of Greg Verdino

If you were not able to get a pass to the sold-out Virtual Worlds ’07 conference in NYC, you are missing out on a great experience.  Compared to other conferences I have attended, this small and intimate gathering is great opportunity to network and to have conversations with some to the early movers and shakers in the virtual world space.

Just about everyone you would want to speak with is here and most of them are participating in panel discussions.  Highlights from today’s session (with links to blogs from other attendees who took better notes than I did):

Phillip Rosedale confessed that his thinking about virtual worlds has changed from being focused on the physics of it, to the realization that it’s the social interaction that’s so powerful. (GregVerdino2.0)

Second Life Technology VP Joe Miller disclosed:

  • We’ll be open-sourcing the back end so sims can run anywhere on any machine whether trusted by us or not.
  • We’ll be delivering assets in a totally different method that won’t be such a burden on the simulators.
  • Very soon we’ll be updating simulators to support multiple versions so that we don’t have to update the entire Grid at once.
  • We’ll be using open protocols.
  • SL cannot truly succeed as long as one company controls the Grid.

 MTV Networks announced a number of new expansions, building on their successful Virtual Laguna Beach and Virtual Hills.  First up, Virtual Pimp My Ride set in the home of the fast and furious crowd, Van Nuys, CA.

In the afternoon, there was a great discussion on virtual world consumer behaviors and the evolution of social networking.

More to come after tomorrow’s session.

Storytelling – Geeksquad vs firedog

gs_island.jpg

I have several official and unofficial jobs at Circuit City.  One of the “official” ones is that I am heading up our entry into the virtual world of SecondLife.  Partnering with IBM, we have a “demonstration store” on one of IBM’s islands.  It’ was in no way designed to be a compelling SecondLife experience, but was intended to be an interesting device to show the “art of the possible” to our executives.  The “store” has been up for a little over 3 months and we are starting the process of envisioning the second generation experience.

Our IBM partners told us that our competitors from Minneapolis were inquiring about SecondLife at January’s CES.  Today, I saw that Geeksquad island has opened in SecondLife.   That’s a fast implementation and points out the strength of BestBuy’s Sense & Respond capability, but the big story here is something else entirely. 

Looking at the Geek Squad SecondLife announcement page, I came to a realization about the different marketing approaches for Geek Squad and firedog.  For months, I’ve been trying to figure out why I didn’t feel comfortable with the firedog brand.  Today it hit me. 

In today’s “experience economy”, it’s not enough to simply make your products and services available.  To win in this market, you need to be able to tell compelling stories.   Lots of promiment Marketing types like Hugh and Seth, have discussed this concept recently.  I think Geek Squad has that ability.  They have created this “geek mystique” that resonates with the masses of people who know they are not as technically savvy as some folks (like the geeks).  With their SecondLife marketing, they carry this “story” forward:

“While this announcement is expected to help Geek Squad’s customers by offering an extension of Geek Squad’s 24-hour service, it is also expected to cut further into its Agents’ already meager social lives.”

“I’m constantly asked about what it is that Geek Squad Agents do in their free time,” said Robert Stephens, founder and Chief Inspector of Geek Squad. “While it used to be a pretty clean mix — divided between poring over computer manuals and sleep — we’ve seen the balance shift in recent years to poring over computer manuals and immersion in digital worlds like multiplayer online games and environments like Second Life.”

Sure, most Geeks have probably never even been to SecondLife, but the story that has been build around the “Geek” makes it easily believable.  It makes sense that “geeks” would be out on the technology edge.  Contrast that with firedog which uses the metaphor of man’s best friend to represent the brand.  The big word here is “Loyal”, but there are a whole series of other words that are used to describe what “what makes a firedog a “firedog” including “Tidy”, “Real”, “Grounded”, and “Fresh”.   firedog.JPG

The problem is that these are just words.  They don’t really tell a story.  They don’t say “these guys live for the technology problems that drive you crazy”.  There is no “mystique”, no story about who these guys are and why you should use them.  It’s simply not as engaging as the “Geek Mystique”.

I’ll probably get some serious grief from my Circuit City family for this post, but I have to call it as I see it.

What do you think?

European PS3 Will Have Reduced Backwards Compatibility

real-ps3-front-2.jpgI was so hoping that we wouldn’t hear any more bad PS3 news from Sony, but just ahead of the European launch, they have once again outdone themselves.  It’s bad enough that Sony ruined Christmas for so many young European kids by delaying the launch, but now we hear that the European design would lack the chip used in the earlier models to support backwards compatibility for PS2 games. 

The function of the chip will be replaced by firmware.  They have a website that list the supported games, many of which are designated “Should play on PLAYSTATION®3 with noticeable issues”.  If your game is not listed, then it is “not yet supported”.  Over time, there will be new firmware releases that the customers will have to apply, but a spokesman said Sony “will not put much effort in making old PS2 titles available on PS3”. 

Translation:  Sorry Europe, your PS3 is not going to be all it was supposed to be, but we just don’t care!!  Now please fork over 599 Euros and be happy that we finally let you have it.

The move is designed to cust costs and speed up production.  Sony expected the consoles to lose money, but make it up on the backend through games and Blu-Ray content.  With sales in the toilet, Sony is forced to make some changes.  Unfortunately, it’s the customer who is paying the price and that will only cause bigger problems for Sony.   The PS3 gamble has been a disaster for Sony; a company that has continually forced proprietary standards on consumers.  They just don’t get it and deserve whatever happens to them.

Sony lists games compatible with PS3 – Games – MSNBC.com

To Rock or Not To Rock

Lots of day job stuff keeping me from being able to get the creative juices flowing, so I’ll pass on to you some good stuff from Becky Carroll’s Customers Rock! blog.

The post from last week was actually written by another great Customer Experience blogger – C.B.Wittemore.

Here’s a sample and a link so you can read the rest….

What’s the difference between companies where customers rock and those where they don’t?

Where customers don’t rock, companies tend to focus on product, on price, on their own internal systems, and not on adding value, creating a memorable experience and building loyalty.  We’ve all been in those places…  They’re uninspired, grim places that drive you out as quickly as possible.  Employees tend to be surly, resentful and unhelpful.

 

In places where customers rock, the opposite happens.  Rocking retail environments practically sing out to consumers inviting them in to explore and imagine the possibilities within.  For example, an Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters store disavows direct selling [i.e., NO HARD SELL!] because that conflicts with a customer rocking attitude.  Talk about an experience!  These stores are magical in how they have been designed to engage the senses – beautiful juxtapositions in product displays, unusual materials [e.g., old bricks wide, sun bleached planks] used in-store to create a wall or a shelf, intriguing scents – and welcome all those interested and not so interested [they offer comfortable seating].  Essentially, customer rocking companies design the whole experience – their processes, their communications, their product assortment and display, their follow up, their interactions – from the customer’s perspective rather than their own.

 

A customer rocking retailer exudes passion and enthusiasm for the product, the category and how it adds value to a customer’s life.  Everyone working within feels energized, empowered, and focused on how to provide customers with meaningful value.

Customers inevitably react with delight and curiosity, appreciation, and heightened expectations.  And once that customer has fully experienced what that company has to offer, she leaves feeling good about the transaction and more than willing to engage in a series of transactions – otherwise known as a relationship – for additional purchases.  She also tells everyone she knows about this amazing customer-centric or customer-focused organization she just encountered.  In other words, it generates intense loyalty.

 

Wow, that really pulls it all together doesn’t it.  C.B.s post goes on to discuss some of her favorite “rocking” organizations.   I like to think about retailers who are not on the top of their game through this lense.  I haven’t found one that you could say is a place where customers rock.  If you say that doesn’t prove anything, then think about those retailers who design every aspect of the experience from the customer’s perspective.  Can you name any who are struggling?  If you work for a retailer, which category do you fall in?

 

Helping The Customer – The HDMI 1.3 Question

Last October, I wrote about the decisions customers must make regarding emerging technology such as the new HDMI 1.3.  Since then, this post has consistently been one of the most active on NextUp getting an average of 8 reads a day.   Those stats tell me that technology customers are looking to really understand the landscape before purchasing and I thought that was a great insight that my company could use.  You see, Circuit City has a pretty good website with lots of educational material, user ratings and forums to help customers with their technology decisions.  But if you search the site for “HDMI 1.3” you won’t find anything. 

With my statistics in hand, I went to the website’s content managers and suggested that we should provide educational info about HDMI 1.3 (pros and cons), even though we don’t sell any HDMI 1.3 equipped hardware at this time (except for the PS3).  My rationale went like this:

  1. Generally, people are researching their technology purchases more than ever before.  Many customers are better educated on the particular technology than the average salesperson.  Researching HDMI 1.3 is no exception.
  2. Putting the info on our site allows us to help them with their decision.
  3. If we don’t put it on the site, we lose credibility with some customers.
  4. If they decide that HDMI 1.3 is not for them, great, we might make a sale.
  5. If they decide to go with HDMI 1.3 after learning about it on our site, that’s great too because we were able to help them.  That provided something of value and earns us credibility.

Unfortunately, that argument didn’t win out over the one that says:

“We don’t sell and HDMI 1.3 stuff.  If we tell them about it, we may lose a sale.” 

Hmmmm.  Is that putting the customer first????

I know there will be a fair number of you reading this post.  If you live in the US, I would really appreciate it if you would comment on this:

Should Circuit City put educational info about new technologies (like HDMI 1.3) on their website even if they don’t carry the product.  It would be great if you explain your answer.  I will post the results in a week.

Update on Amazon.com Experience

amazon_com_logo.png

I finally have an update for you on the Amazon Experience.  Over three weeks after I applied for an Amazon (Chase) credit card, I get a message from “Card Services” asking me to call them.  I call, they answer “Card Services, do you have a reference number”.  I say I do and ask what band they are representing.  At that point they identify themselves as “Chase Card Services”.   

If any of you can explain why banks need to be so secretive, I’d love to hear it

Anyway, I give them the reference number and the agent tells me she sees where I had applied for an Amazon card.  I say yes and ask why after three weeks, I still didn’t have an account.  I don’t get an answer, but am told that they see I already have an account with Chase and they would like to know how much I would like to set my credit limit at.  They offer a couple of really high numbers, to which I say “just give me the minimum”. 

They tell me I will have my card in 7-10 days and that i will have to wait until it arrives before I can use the account at Amazon.  This is contrary for the way Amazon says the process works (another strike).

So after 3 weeks, I have an account, but can’t us it.  The hold up was that Chase wanted to offer me lots of credit; something I didn’t want.  The process has resulted in Amazon not getting a sale.  Bad experience all around.

Sorry…

I haven’t posted anything in a few days.  Not sure if the house is possessed or just a case of stray cosmic rays, but both my home PC and my work notebook died within a few days of each other.  It’s been a very strange experience to be less connected for a few days. 

The first thing I noticed was that the house was much quieter.  I had no idea how loud the desktop PC was.  I have replaced it with a very quiet notebook.  The other thing I noticed was how much time I waste just surfing around.   The weekend seemed much longer (even though we lost an hour) and I got a lot of things done around here that have been needing attention.

As evidenced by this post, I now have replacement hardware and will be providing regular updates to the blog.

Thanks for being patient.

Doug

Another Man’s Voice…

In the interest of providing equal time, and to point out that other CE retailers struggle with delivering a great customer experience, I offer another customer video.  While the filmaker’s work is not as impactful as the Circuit City example, you get to ride along and have the experience first-hand. 

In the end, the same point is made:  Customers are rising up and telling their stories and companies should be listening.  This video, which was made a year ago, has been viewed over 3300 times on Google Video.

Enjoy!

One Man’s Voice…

The power of the internet and personal media tools has forever changed the balance of power in favor of the customer.  One Man’s Voice can be heard by millions.   Here’s a story that I think really drives that point home.

A few months ago, I contributed content to a presentation initiated by David Armano. David is the Creative VP for the marketing firm Digitas. He is also a very influential blogger who is well known for creating simple but powerful graphics to communicate his ideas. The presentation, entitled “2006 in Your Words”, was a collection of insights and opinions about what the year’s big themes were from a marketing and communications standpoint.  To demonstrate the power of Web2.0 collaboration, the presentation contained content from little fish like me as well as some industry heavy hitters.   You can see the presentation here.

“We have been shifting media power to individuals for years now. Perhaps it started with the VCR. The internet shifted control of retail to the customer years ago. Today, individuals have the power to control markets, create and distribute their own content, build and occupy virtual worlds with new opportunities for commerce and entertainment. They don’t have to rely on some corporation to provide the experiences for them. They simply use the new tools, which they are mastering as fast as the tool developers can build them, to build whatever they want, to be whoever they want to be and to let their voice be heard.

Why am I telling you this?  I work for Circuit City Stores and have been helping the organization become more adaptive through the use of social media tools.  Last night I came across a number of user generated videos about Circuit City. Some were commercials, done by associates, which is interesting in itself,

But then I found this

You should watch it all the way to the end. It’s powerful!   As a company, we are determined to become great at providing exceptional customer experiences.   We are making progress towards this goal, but this statement from one man points out how difficult that journey will be and how much harder we need to work to get there.

Corporations need to realize that today’s customer expects perfection and has an increasingly loud voice that can potentially reach very large numbers of people.  They are actively sharing their experiences and feelings to anyone who will listen.  We should be listening to them!

Trust Lost

best_buy_logo_svg.pngBest Buy, the nation’s biggest consumer electronics retailer, Best Buy has a big problem.  They appear to have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  Like many retailers (including my employer, Circuit City), BestBuy provides access to their website from within their physical stores.  The problem is that the prices shown in-store are higher than the prices shown on their website when accessed from outside the store. 

The vast majority of CE customers research their purchased on the web before buying.  They often decide on what and where to buy based on features and price, and then go to the selected store for a final look and to complete the transaction.   For many Best Buy customers, the price went up when they walked in the door.  In some cases, they may not have even realized it.   Now, at least one state government is conducting investigations and you can count on more to follow.   I expect proposals for a Class Action suit have already been put together by some eager legal team.

Best Buy has invested millions on programs designed to drive customer loyalty, especially among preferred customer groups.   I don’t know whether their success can be attributed to those programs, but I do know this:

Loyalty is a customer’s response to advocacy and earned trust. 

It doesn’t matter whether BestBuy’s “problem” is the result of planned deception or simply a bad design, the appearance of impropriety is going to cost them some of that trust and loyalty.

Has your organization reviewed its customer touchpoints to ensure that you don’t have systems or procedures that could damage the trust your customers have in you?

When Your Partners Don’t Deliver the Experience

amazon_com_logo.pngYou’ve worked hard to create a great customer experience that defines your brand.  You’ve been a leader in differentiating your offering from the competition and have made significant investments to maintain that advantage.  You have maintained your focus on your core business by partnering with others to deliver the services that they have expertise in.  But do they share your passion for delivering the great experience?  Is ensuring that your customers have the best possible experience their top priority?

Working in retail, I can site any number of cases where the partner doesn’t deliver on the brand and I am personally in the middle of one of those cases right now.

Two weekends ago, I decided to purchase a device to allow all the computers in the house to share our new laser printer.  I found what I wanted at Amazon and the price was right.  During the checkout process, Amazon asks if I would like to save $30 on the purchase by opening an Amazon Visa account.  $30 off a $65 item???  Heck yeah!   I LOVE AMAZON.  So I click the button.  I am magically transported to a Chase Bank page where I fill out all the important info.  I click Submit and proceed to the checkout where I expect to see my new Amazon account listed as an option.

OK, here’s where things start to fall apart.  I see Amazon Visa as an option, but it wants my account number.  Hmm, OK… I know how these things work.  There will be an e-mail congratulating me on my new account, so off I go to my mailbox.   That’s odd, no e-mail.  Shouldn’t there at least be be something that says “thanks for your application, were looking at”?  If the internet is indeed just a series of pipes, then perhaps the pipes are clogged.  I decide to turn my attention somewhere else and come back to this later.  This is the internet equivalent of getting fed up with a ridiculously slow line and walking out the door of a real store.

ATTENTION AMAZON:  I have now left your store without making a purchase!!!!!

I tried to call the Amazon Credit Card Customer Service number, but apparently they only work weekdays buring “normal business hours”.  Obviously, no one shops on the internet at night or on weekends.

On Monday morning, I reach the Customer Service department, which I suspect is outsourced by Chase to some third party provider.  They see where I have an application pending, but cannot provide any additional information other than to say that the approval process can take up to 30 days.   WHAT???????  30 DAYS to approve a credit card???  Isn’t this the same Chase Bank that sends me offers for new credit cards every week?.  Is this not the 21st century?  Aren’t credit applications processed by computers?  

At this point, I could simply purchase the item from anywhere else, but I am so amazed at how poorly Amazon and Chase have handled this experience so far, that I decide to stick it out to see how (if) it gets resolved.  I check back periodically during the week and it is now Sunday night, and I still have not received any notice one way or the other from either Amazon or Chase.  The item is still in my cart, but the price has increased by $4.oo since I first selected it (another annoyance).  I’ll provide updates to this post as the story develops.

Why do companies let these little annoyances happen to their customers?  Dissatisfaction is the big Loyalty Killer.  Sure, I’ll probably still purchase from Amazon, but I am not likely to click on any of their added value services because I don’t trust them (or should I say their partners) to be able to execute.  In retailing, those added services are where the margin lies.  In my world, that’s the extended warranty, the credit and the installation services.  Ironically, it’s the delivery of those services that are most frequently outsourced to third parties; organizations whose priorities ae frequeently not aligned with mine.

Is your organization using partners to deliver on your brand’s experience?  How well are they living up to your customer’s expectations?

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