Archive for category Conversation
Wondering what airlines and mobile phone carriers have in common? They both exploit customers. Well, to be fair, I really just think they are both in the same class of companies. Companies that often exploit you unfairly for their own benefit, extracting as much money from your wallet as possible without genuine concern for the bad experiences they are creating. This is what I was talking about in my Social Cash keynote last week in Stockholm.
But let me recap what I experienced with American Airlines flight 177 from JFK to SFO last night. (yes, I know I should be relaxing and not writing with my recent health issues, but this may be the biggest benefit of slowing down for me, that I find time and willingness to write, so please let me)
I was flying back from Stockholm yesterday morning, which means I started out to the airport from my hotel around midnight PST, 7am CET. First flight was simple, short hop on Finnair to Helsinki on a newish Airbus 319. It was fabulous. They offered up the standard nordic breakfast sandwich and orange juice and coffee. They didn’t charge for my bag. There was a problem getting my tickets printed in Stockholm for some reason, but the desk agent went ahead and did everything she could, but could not, for some reason, print my JFK-SFO boarding pass, so I had to leave without it afraid I would not be able to board in JFK or transfer easily. Whatever.
I got to Helsinki where they promise to be the easiest airport for transfers, and I have to agree, it was actually pleasant. Because of my platinum status with American Airlines (Sapphire in One World) I was able to enter the Via Lounge in Helsinki, which was just terrific. One of the best airline lounges I have ever seen, it even had a spa, though I had no time there to use it. Had an incredible bowl of minestrone soup and a short glass of white white, which in European lounges are provided to guests for free. Oh yes, of course, in the European (and most Canadian) airports, the small baggage rolling carts are also free, making the travel experience much easier on everyone, particularly people traveling in ill health like me. They care about the experience and the customers.
On board the brand new Airbus 330 from Helsinki to JFK, I really had a great experience, though I ate some chocolate sugary thing and some lasagna which may have induced a minor attack later (sorry for weaving stories/issues here but its important). I struck up a conversation with my seat mate, JJ whose best man in his wedding was actually flying the plane. The new seats were comfortable and the nice family who was traveling around us with their baby were kind enough to not lean back into us, so I actually had plenty of room despite my sarcastic tweet about it. During the flight I started sweating and having chest pains, so I told JJ of my experience in Sweden and said “I just want someone to know, I forgot to tell the gate attendant during boarding”. He suggested I needed to stay hydrated and had a conversation with the flight attendant in Finnish a short while later. When she came back through to pick up garbage she also brought a water bottle and kept bringing water throughout the flight. It was a smooth crossing and when we landed, something incredible happened.
I had the most amazing experience in JFK airport. Seriously.
First, there was a woman standing at the exit of the jetway holding a sign with several names on it, including mine. Since we were about 95 minutes to departure of my flight, I briefly hoped it was a lift through the customs area and to the gate or something really cool like that. Instead, it was my boarding pass for the next flight which I thought I was going to have to fight to get. Instead, without checking my identification, I told her who I was, what flight and she handed it to me and I was on my way racing to beat the queue of over 500 people from other planes that got to the gate in front of me. Not necessarily smart for my condition, but I was feeling ok and I really didn’t want to miss my flight (knowing that it could take 2 hours to clear customs, border control and recheck my bags).
Somehow, the US Citizens queue was wide open and I literally walked right up to a border control agent who scanned my passport and sent me through to baggage claim. At the baggage claim I sat down to rest, prepared for a long wait. But no, the belt began to move in just a few minutes, surprising myself and another American on board the same flight. Within a few more minutes, my bag was off the plane and I was headed to the customs agent with my pass. After being screwed around with for a minute because I didn’t put the flight number on the document (my bad) I went to recheck, where I explained why the bag wasn’t checked through and checked my bag. I then went upstairs and got through the security line in just a few minutes for a grand total transfer time of just about 20-25 minutes from exiting my plane to getting through security again.
Incredible luck. This was definitely going to be my day.
I then got to the Admirals Club near my gate, walked around to see if there was anyone I knew and lo and behold, found a free drink ticket laying on one of the tables. Score. After getting a glass of red wine (help’s blood flow if drank in moderation I hear) I sat down and started making calls. Then I noticed, that I was sitting near Danielle Staub from Real Housewives of New Jersey, who was just as sweet as can be (sorry no gossip from me, just a nice woman and really friendly). We were both commenting on how incredible the woman who ran the bar there was in looking after passengers, going to them and offering them water, snacks or bar drinks or whatever. She reminded us of Delores who ran the best coffee sales 7-11 store on the Undercover Boss show.
Back to the Airlines Story.
So it was getting closer to boarding time and I decided to check Flightview to see if the plane was still leaving on time and if I needed to go. It wasn’t. New estimated take off time was now 625pm, so I called Kristie and told her the plane was going to be late. After hanging up with her, I looked back at the screen and saw that it said the plane was a 757, not the 767 I had expected. Huh, that’s odd. So I went to the Admirals Club desk just to see if the 625pm time was even accurate, and she said, “oh, so you got the news about the equipment change” and I said, no I hadn’t but wanted to just check in. She told me, you are in luck, you still have your business seat and she booked me into 4F. Whew, I thought, that would have sucked big time. All I wanted was that nearly lay flat business seat in the 767, but I would settle for a warm meal and a business class seat anywhere as long as I could get home after 16 hours of traveling by that point.
So I went back to my seat in the lounge happy that I didn’t have to go get dinner in the airport. I also went back to the AA.com web site where the plane info was still showing the 767 as the plane we were on and there were no notices in my reservations, or calls to my phone about this very major change. As I found out later at the gate, there was little to no notice given to the rest of the passengers either as one after another tried to board with their old tickets only to be told it wasn’t valid any longer.
After a few more phone calls, it got to be 6pm, so I packed up and headed to the gate thinking we were boarding. Well, it was more then thinking we were boarding, the signs said in the lounge NOW BOARDING. But it really wasn’t. It was pandemonium as the gate agents struggled to deal with all these last minutes changes. The crew hadnt even been allowed on board by this point and the departure time was updated to 650pm. I simply asked at this point of the gate agent, are we really leaving at 650pm and do we still have dinner in first class on this flight, to which she replied yes. So I was standing around relaxed, ignoring the chaos and just waiting to sit in my first class seat, which I was promised by the folks in the Admirals Club when they rebooked me and handed it to me for 4F.
Unfortunately, this was not to be. When they finally opened the gates and I handed my ticket to the check in agent, she said, wait, “You are not Mr. XXXXX” and I said of course not, see my ticket says Heuer, 4F. To which she replied, “Oh, well we aren’t able to process upgrades. You know we changed the equipment right?” Of course, that is why you are at a different gate and have all these angry folks around. So I was instructed that they would have to find me a new seat and she would do her best to get me to one that had no one sitting next to me in the middle. Very nice I thought, but how could they do that going from a 767 to a 757? Whatever, I said what are you doing about food, my travel plans were based on getting a meal. She very kindly said, I will get the ticket, you can go get something now from the airport if you like. So I had to run down to the deli and pick up a crappy chicken wrap which in the end was probably best from a health standpoint.
When I returned with my sandwich, the chaos had grown even worse, with priority access members trying to board and being told not to by one woman, and then being told to do so by another. To be fair, the gate agents were just as screwed as the passengers here, it was probably a middle management decision and a pretty poor one at that, but more about this towards the end of the post. They were doing the best they could in the face of the dilemma and the atrocious behaviour of some other passengers who were just berating and cussing at them non-stop. Eventually, the gate agent handed me a new ticket with a 12a seat assignment. At least I was going home I thought, “I will deal with it”.
I wish the story ended here, with just the few promises made broken, but it doesn’t. And it may be even an even more insisidious problem beneath the thin veil of this horrible experience. Which of course is nothing compared to people stranded overnight or left on planes for hours, but for me, being told one thing, then another, then another with no one having the full truth available, it was bad enough. At this point, after one mild ‘attack’ during the day and over 17 hours into my travel day, it was bad enough.
Before being told to turn off our cell phones, at 710pm I got a call from American Airlines who said in that great computer generated voice of theirs that the plane was now scheduled to depart at 715pm. I thought to myself, no way, they aren’t going to make that timeline, so I tweeted and turned off my phone. After sitting at the gate for about 30 more minutes and being told then by the pilot that they were still loading bags AND CARGO, I turned my phone back on to #twitch about it some more (my new word for bitching on Twitter, surely I didn’t coin the phrase, but I like it). Wouldn’t you know, while I was writing my tweet, I got another phone call from American Airlines telling me the flight was taking off at 750pm (about 5 minutes). Again, I thought this couldn’t be true. But in fact it finally pushed back from the gate just around there if not a few minutes after.
So the problem here is that none of the front line people want to tell us anything about what is going on in the back of the house because none of them can say so with confidence whether it is really accurate or true. There are so many dependencies on things like this, it is understandable. And with airline customer rage at an all time high, who wants to say I think we are taking off at 750pm when in fact they may be called out later for lying to us. Or who would want to tell an angry mob of passengers that the real takeoff would be 750pm when they can perhaps get them handed to another employee to deal with directly. So I understand why they dont disclose enough information often, but it creates a horrible relationship between company and customer. If we could only trust the employees and therby the airlines a bit more it would all be different. If we could only trust them and like them for their earnest attempts to provide us with great service and as much honest information as they could, we might be a bit more forgiving. But they can’t and we won’t.
Flying an Old Bird
So whatever the reasons American Airlines provides later on this equipment change, one thing is sure, they are flying some old airplanes. I got in my seat, and there was in fact no one sitting next to me. I usually fly aisle seats forward so I can get up and stretch and move around without bothering other passengers, so at least I was forward if not in the aisle. But my seat would not recline properly – if I put pressure against the window side armrest and leaned back with all my weight it would go back, but not if I just sat there. Weird. The real problem is that it felt like it was 32 dewgrees farenheit up against the window. I had to use 2 blankets just to shield me from the bone chilling cold of this way too thin membrane between me and the cold upper atmosphere. Thankfully, at least there were blankets, if there werent, I might have caused an incident. No pillows though of course, and no comfort in those overly worn seats with way too little cushion for my overweight body.
In looking at the seats that passed for first class in the early 1970′s plane they pulled from retirement, I was somewhat thankful that I didn’t waste my upgrade tickets (worth $180usd for JFK-SFO) but at the same time, still upset I was stuck where I was. At least I made it to SFO by 11pm PST and to my house before midnight (before heading into the hospital for another visit due to the stress that had started causing my chest pains again). But let’s not worry about me anymore, lets talk about American Airlines and allow me to share my opinion on what I think may have happened before this to create this bad situation. (Am sure they will respond here, as they said on Twitter last night, they are “listening” and the guy running the late shift twitter account (good process to run 24/7 shifts btw) promised a followup to see what happened on their end)
From my perspective, I feel lied to and I trust American Airlines even less then I did before. As you may recall, I am a proponent for something I call a Net Trust Score to replace the aging Net Promoter Score as a system for measuring how well a company is doing in the market, with trust as the ultimate barometer, more important then promoting. If the company is trusted, they will be promoted, whereas with Apple I promote the iPhone (or rather I did) even though I didn’t trust or promote AT&T.
I have been loyal to American Airlins for the past decade plus because they fly to all the major cities I frequent most and usually have competitive rates on those flights. I have had gold and platinum status for years. After experiencing how they treat regular customers (how all airlines treat non-loyalty customers in fact), I never want to deal with that level of service again, so I stay loyal, because I have to or get even shittier service from other carriers (though I often choose to fly Virgin now if I can because they really do rock and JetBlue occasionally and then Southwest). The problem is I can’t trust American Airlines like I used to after this experience and many others I have had over the past year. In fact, when I upgraded my flight from DFW to LHR on my way to Europe about 10 days ago paying $450 and 25,000 miles for one segment, there was a miscommunication that almost cost me my seat on the plane if it were not for a good mannered well meaning gate manager, but I will let that story slide for now.
How can I be given a seat from one point in the system and then have it taken away in another? You promised me at this point that I had a seat in business class. I made all my planning at the airport on this promise, and it caused me undue stress as a result. Then there are the multiple changing promises about take off time. I know you can’t control when things go wrong all the time, but how odd is it that your phone system calls people to tell them of delays even when they are supposed to have their phones turned off and are sitting on the plane. Perhaps just an unfortunate system design in an edge case, but it was striking to me and furthered my distrust of your company.
I will spare you what I think about making us wait for CARGO to get loaded on the plane so you can make a few extra bucks. OK, so I didn’t. I guess I lied too, just like you did to me.
As for bringing an old ass plane like that out to fly us across the country (and my friend Bryan Thatcher on one from Paris to NYC), well I know the economics of maintaining an older fleet and the huge cost for modernizing it so I understand why you HAVE to do it, but I don’t like it and I may leave you if I get stuck on too many more of these when I could be flying in comfort on Virgin or Jetblue instead. In fact, if I see equipment on any flight I am considering is a 757, I will not complete the reservation and instead will go somewhere else, regardless of what it costs.
Now for the part that American Airlines will be happy I saved for last, but will get quoted by the most number of people. I think this whole situation may have been part of a decision management tree and may have been a middle management move to squeeze the most profit out of the situation that deserves a real investigation. Perhaps I dont have all the story here on why the gate agents were overheard using the phrase “downgraded equipment” by several people, including my very relaxed and uber smart seat mate in 12c. But when I looked at the seating chart last week in Europe to see if I was going to have a chance of getting the upgrade, there were only about 8-10 seats showing available in economy. So I thought my chances were slim. When I got the upgrade notification 72 hours in advance, I was shocked but delighted. (part of the broken promise thing again, I was looking forward to this leg of the flight for 3 days!)
It turns out, that the woman sitting next to me, also saw there were no seats available on the seating chart last week. But instead, the smaller 757 we flew had plenty of open seats on it. Meaning the original 767 was way underbooked, else there would have been a huge problem trying to get them all in. While many people like me were denied their upgraded seat assignments (some of who received extra snacks and drinks for the trouble though I didnt get such an offer), everyone it seemed got on the plane easily enough. Or maybe they didnt and people were screwed over in economy so people like me could have more room which if true would be even worse.
So given this information, that their were few seats to choose from on the bigger plane, but plenty left open on the smaller plane, could they have been deliberately presenting false information about available supply in order to get a higher price per available seat without anyone noticing? I know the car rental industry has recently been managing its available supply of cars in order to change pricing points on the demand curve (can’t find the article on this, but someone sent it to me in response to a twitter inquiry into high rental car prices in the fall). Could the airline be presenting false information about available seats in order to get a higher price on the seats it was selling?
While this is all conjecture and there is little but my anecdotal experience as proof, given how little trust we have left for companies who make so many broken promises, I wouldn’t put it past them to do something like this.
As I can imagine it might work if someone were to be so aggressive in the marketing of their services, if you aren’t selling enough seats on a plan at a price that makes the flight profitable, you present false information about there being fewer available seats in order to create a perception that the last seats on a particular flight are more valuable and worth paying the higher price. If you as the airline hit your profitability mark, you fly the plane as planned. If you don’t hit that revenue figure for the flight, you change the equipment at the last minute, as may have been done with my flight AA 177 on March 31, 2010 and force all the humans behind the shadows on the cave wall, otherwise known as the spreadsheet, to suffer through the very difficult human experience we all had.
If it is happening, I am sure there will be someone out there who can speak to this, because it would be so wrongheaded they probably couldn’t live with the lie, even if it meant their job. I have seen enough flights cancelled where there were clearly not more then a dozen or two people affected by it to know that such things have been handled by airlines in similar ways before, but who knows for sure? Only the managers making such decisions and a few of their colleagues in other departments who they have told about it.
As far as I can see this wouldn’t necessarily be an illegal thing to do, just an unfair and non-transparent trade practice that would cause such a PR nightmare, it would really hurt everyone from employees to stockholders to customers. Which is why again, I must point out this is only an imagined scenario at this point, based on conjecture, my experience, my imagination and my knowledge of business decision making processes. Still, I hope someone can look into this and I hope that American Airlines can tell us the full real story of what happened on this flight and how we all ended up in this crazy experience.
UPDATE 6April2010 10:30am: American Airlines sent me a form letter (customized of course) that basically said it was an equipment/maintenance issue that made them change the plane and offered 3 electronic upgrade coupons (value=$90) for my troubles and 73 minute delay. My reply was, thats great to know, why didnt you tell me that last week because that is a really simple thing to find out. What about the other issues like the freezing 757 and why the system allowed me to get rebooked in the first place, then denied. The form letter thing was quaint, but expected I guess, including this wonderful gem “eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have developed to date”.
Over the past few months, I have had several opportunities while speaking, to experientially teach people the power of conversation to create understanding between people that goes beyond our choice of words. In each case, someone in the audience (or in a meeting) misconstrued what I was saying because my word choice did not match their own perceptions regarding an intention or point of view around a particular subject. Through the give and take and back and forth of conversation, we were both able to realize we were merely describing the proverbial different parts of the elephant as the blind men might do.
The idea of widespread participation in ‘the conversation’ is a very challenging thing for corporations to embrace because you not only lose control of the message, but also because you risk losing control of the messenger, and their personal judgments and speech. Last night this came into focus more clearly when my colleague Josh Bancroft criticized our efforts with Social Media Club when he wrote a blog post that said we had “nuked the fridge”. Now, we have received some criticism and some praise throughout the day, which to me is good because it means we are no longer in what Kathy Sierra has referred to as the zone of mediocrity, which is where we were for too long (IMHO).
My challenge isn’t with criticism, it is with a set of broader issues which I guess you could consider as the ‘hot buttons’ that set me off. For this, I want to apologize to Josh for snapping back at him, but I also would like to ask you to indulge me in looking at the bigger picture here, which is a bit complex and for which I am afraid my ability to communicate is not sufficient. I don’t mean to call Josh out specifically here, but this incident really has helped to clarify my thoughts around this issue and I think it is a valuable lesson to share.
While this is not a complete list, as I see it today, there are five things we should understand and consider when living in the era of conversation.
First, it is the matter of intention
Second, it is the matter of making assumptions
Third, it is the matter of familiarity and respect
Fourth, it is the matter of ethnocentrism (or technocentrism)
Finally, it is the matter of responsibility
Intentions matter a lot, and for us to disregard this in public discourse and/or in understanding each other through our actions is to completely misunderstand what being social is all about. In a very real sense, at least from my perspective, I was largely given a ‘hall pass’ on the failures of Social Media Club (SMC) because most people know that my intentions are good, that I am living my values, that I am honest and that I am working for positive change despite falling short on occasion. Last night, I was talking to my Conversation Group colleague Eric Doyle (our office Buddha) who was discussing the meaning of influence with someone who doesn’t believe in PR. He mentioned that influence was largely understood to mean manipulation. I pointed out to Eric that influence itself is not inherently good or bad, but rather it was the intentions behind the use of influence that determined whether it was helpful or exploitative. My drinking of a Peroni may have influenced others who joined our group to also drink a Peroni (it was so tasty!) but there was no intention of manipulation there, or for that matter of being helpful – I was just drinking a cool refreshing Peroni
In another exchange yesterday, a colleague from Intel Kelly Feller pointed out that there were not a lot of corporate practitioners on the SMC Interim Board (there are in fact 6 or 7). I had worked hard to invite a wide range of people to provide different perspectives and was taken aback by this a little. Since I don’t know Kelly all that well (we have only spoken by phone/email a few times, but I clearly understand she has value to contribute and generally ‘gets it’), I was able to keep a more level head. While a bit ‘perturbed’ at this pronouncement, I engaged her in Twitter conversation to determine her intentions and ask if she was interested in helping, to which she answered “who would I be to criticize and then not be willing to help? “
But when Josh decided to say that we nuked the fridge, his use of colorful language, in my mind (and based on prior observed behaviour), was used to draw attention and demean our efforts, not make them better or engage in conversation. This was in stark contrast to the approach that Lloyd Davis took in the comments when noticing that we had made a mistake in claiming 42 interim board members, when in fact there was only 41. Had Lloyd’s intention been anything other than to respectfully get to the facts, he may have written a blog post calling us liars and committing a fraud on the public, though clearly this was a simple, and all too human, mistake.
This leads me into my second issue, which is about making assumptions. Now we all have to do this generally to get by in the world (is this person I am dating ‘sponge worthy‘ for instance), but largely we tend to make assumptions when we should be asking questions and seeking clarifications. This is one of the central points of what I think is the most important book of our time (and my favorite), The Four Agreements. Clearly I am not perfect in this regards because I assumed that Josh was attacking me and SMC for his own gain rather than calmly engaging him and trying to get at the root of his concerns.
In my mind though, this was for a good reason, which brings me to my 3rd point of familiarity and respect. There have been a few times where I have been personally offended by assumptions and statements made by people I know who didn’t bother to respect our relationship by seeking clarification directly before making public statements/posts which in my mind were inaccurate. I had mistakenly thought that Josh understood my intentions here and what we were working to accomplish with SMC, which can broadly be thought of as trying to ensure we use this social medium properly for the positive benefit of us individually and collectively. So when someone published what I perceived as an attacking post instead of asking me for clarification personally first (he does follow me on Twitter despite my original mistake in thinking he doesn’t), it really hit my hot button. As I clearly hit Josh’s when I made another statement on Twitter, and for which I again apologize for upsetting you Josh. Hopefully you can see that there was a point to it here that I was trying to make, one which is clearly taking more then 140 characters to explain.
This of course brings up a larger question of responsibility, my fourth point. We have been given a great power in freedom of speech with these social media tools, and of course in the use of that freedom people are free to do with it as they please and we have little control over it, if any at all (at least in this country). This is why it is so important that those of us, like Josh and myself, have a responsibility to use the power of this medium responsibly. We have a responsibility to not just pass judgement in a hastily formed opinion that could cause harm to others (personal, professional, or otherwise). Journalists have this responsibility to the truth hammered into them from their very early days of ‘J’ school, and by all their editor/mentors over the years. It is a tradition passed on from master to apprentice and it is missing from the ‘art of blogging’ to such a degree that I do think it is one of the biggest issues we face. The behaviour we choose to model for those who follow us will determine what society as a whole thinks is the difference between right and wrong – if we choose to use inflamatory language to draw more attention to our hastily formed opinions which may not be based on all the facts, we are setting a bad example.
In my mind, this is made an even more egregious mistake when such snap judgements are formed about people or situations to which we have direct access to the people involved. It amazes me to think about how many times someone I know has written something that was simply not correct, when a simple email, direct message or phone call could provide clarification about their concerns…
As I am getting rather long and I am afraid people will misconstrue my final point, I won’t dive too deep into why ethnocentrism is an important matter to discuss here, but let me briefly talk about the relevant analogy I am trying to make. In this case, the idea of technocentrism is perhaps more important to discuss. It has its roots in the same general principles of ethnocentrism – the distrust/dislike of people who are not like us and a feeling of superiority – but it is perhaps more divisive in our society today then many realize. As part of my regular speeches I often talk of the chasm of mistrust between technology and marketing folks as being responsible for trillions of dollars of lost value in the economy. I mean it, and I wish I could fund a study to prove it – the number might be even bigger.
The challenge here is that oftentimes when a technologist sees someone in a suit, or with a particular title, or using some of those ‘marketing words’, many will make a snap judgement that this person is not to be trusted. Online, we make similar snap judgments based on the words and writing styles people use. In the situation with Josh Bancroft’s dislike of Social Media Club’s announcement, it had to do with a particular paragraph of text that to him made it sound like we had ‘sold out’ and gone ‘corporate’.
To be clear, I am not perfect here myself. The only reason I know about this or have thought about it is because I have made the same sort of mistakes and faced the same issues personally. Had I not felt the pain that such thinking and behaviour has wrought, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons myself. In fact, for many of these points, I still make the same mistakes, but I am quick to admit when I am wrong or when I realize I should have responded differently.
Why invest so many words in trying to explain this situation? It is not for my sake or for Josh’s, but rather for all of our benefit. If we don’t learn how to live in this era of conversation with one another better, all of the command and control hierarchy people in institutions who don’t want us talking to one another will win the day. This is one of the few places where the group that plays Amanda Chapel is right – seeing the world as it is rather than how it could be – there is little reason why corporations based on the principles of profit and growth should risk their existence by allowing an individual to express a hastily formed opinion or speak out of turn when we are not thinking more conscientiously about what we are saying and how it will be perceived. If we are to really have conversations with companies, and with each other, openly and freely, we have to learn how to talk with one another better. We need to accept responsibility for our actions and our speech.
In short, we need to apply good intentions, stop making assumptions, respect one another regardless of our differing opinions, stop judging books by their covers and embrace the fact that we are all responsible for the communities in which we live.
If we can’t get by these problems as a society and start to move in the direction of open and respectful conversation, we won’t ever realize our full potential or live in the sort of world I hope and pray we can create.
Photo by CC_Chapman under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works license.
Technorati Tags: conversation, conversational marketing, social media, social media club
During Web 2.0 Expo I was fortunate to snag a few minutes with Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody” at the Blogtropl.us Blogger Lounge hosted by The Conversation Group. One of the main issues I wanted to discuss with him was in this world where everyone participates, how do we get more people collaborating together to focus our energies for combined outcomes. Further, what do we do about the world of ‘hostile forks’ where people are working on the same problems but unable to work together due to personality or other conflicts. We also got into the central premise of his book, which he concisely describes here in this video… definitely worth the 10 minutes to watch it/listen to it.
PS – if things work out as we hope, we will be seeing you again for the Bloggers Lounge during the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo’s in NYC, Boston and Germany…
After reading The problem with ‘conversational marketing’ I was inspired to express my views on the importance of conversation and the evolution of marketing.
Let’s be clear, the real problem with conversational marketing (other than the God awful term itself) is the ‘marketing’, not the conversation. The human problem with many traditional marketing practices is that they are exploitative in nature, selling/hyping goods and services in the market that are of dubious value, and only benefit those doing the selling. Of course this is not the case with the majority of marketing or marketers, but the extent to which a few bad intentioned actors can create a stereotype that is harmful to an entire group of people is quite stunning.
The gist of the article is correct that product and experience are the most important aspects of the business by providing goods and services to the market that create profits and satisfaction. I wrote about this after our awesome SxSW panel earlier this year in a post called The Golden Rules of Marketing. If you are more interested in the importance of great products as the first step to great marketing, listen to the podcast of the Self Replicating Awesomness session.
My problem is with the article’s dismissal of the importance of conversation over messaging to create understanding. It demonstrates how badly a few buzzword spewing charlatans can hurt the efforts towards transformation across an industry (communications in this case).
As I have demonstrated in unplanned exchanges in numerous workshops I have facilitated over the past year, it is very easy for people to mean the same thing, use different words to describe it and have an argument resulting from their different viewpoints. Conversation in this case, creates understanding, bridging cultures and differences in the use of language – something that a simple published statement or headline (aka message) can not do if no one is able to be engaged, listening and responding.
When those of us who understand what is happening say the words ‘listen and respond’, we are not limiting ourselves to the words we say back to someone after listening. We are talking about what we DO as a result of HEARING them as well as what we say. By listening, and truly hearing what is said, we are also showing that we are paying attention – it speaks volumes about the true intentions of our actions in the market place.
The post’s author sees the biggest proof of the failure of conversational marketing in a 2007 study from 9 months prior to their post:
According to the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, Dell was at the bottom of the pack in 2007 and actually lost 5 percentage points from the previous year
The author is correct in noting that it is much more difficult to provide a product that meets the market’s needs/expectations then it is to talk with them. Duh! The point isn’t so much that they are talking together, but what they do as a result. To expect conversations between representatives of a company and the market to turn around the culture and operational systems of that company within a matter of hours or days is of course impractical. These things take time. We are all human, people misunderstand, and of course, people make new mistakes which need to be understood and corrected all the time.
The article goes on to further state:
As such, companies should invest first and foremost in making sure that they do a good job of providing consumers with the products and services they want and need.
But of course, in order to understand what products they want, the companies need to listen to them FIRST, deliver the goods, listen to them again, change, deliver the goods again with improvements and so on. This quote shows how backwards the thinking is – companies need to do more up front to understand the needs of the market (traditionally thought of as research, which is of course a form of a conversation) before they invest in producing the goods.
The post goes on to say:
I would also point out what may seem counterintuitive to conversationalists – the fact that sometimes silence is the best indicator of consumer satisfaction.
Apparently, the author – Drama 2.0 – hasn’t read one of Kathy Sierra’s best blog posts called Be Brave or Go Home, which explains why customer silence is not golden if your company lives in the zone of mediocrity. Nor have they read Ken Blanchards book called Raving Fans, nor do they understand the importance and impact of Word of Mouth.
The thing is, that if I buy a computer from Dell (and I am a Mac guy, so the chances are slim), I hope I don’t have to talk to Richard Binhammer about a problem, but he hopes I talk to him about how much I love it. Either way, because I know that they are listening, as humans do to one another, I know that he will help to fix any problems. I know that their intentions are to serve us with better products and that sometimes shit happens. If the intention is made clear that they are not a faceless corporation here to take my money and harm me by selling me bad products/services, I would rather buy from them then anyone else.
This is our philosophy at The Conversation Group, and the main purpose we came together as an agency – to help more companies embrace the spirit of conversation with markets and to move beyond marketing by discovering, engaging and serving their markets in a more respectful and effective way.
Thanks to Rebecca Caroe from Creative Agency Secrets who pointed out this article called The problem with ‘conversational marketing’. (disclosure: two of the subjects of that post, Richard Binhammer and Shel Israel are friends) This is something I was writing about last summer in the post entitled, Stop the Insanity, Don’t Call it Conversational Marketing, and more recently in response to a Doc Searls post (keep getting better Doc, we’re with you) called Clues vs. Trains.
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