The Problem with Flying… A Lack of Innovation?


Up, Up, and Away

As I get settled into 2012 and prepare for my first business trip of the new year, I find myself smiling on the outside, with knowledge that I now possess Platinum Medallion status on Delta Airlines.  This satisfaction quickly sours as I bite my lip until it bleeds and shed a tear when thinking back on 2011’s travel schedule.

Question: So what did 55 flights and nearly 90,000 miles teach me?

Answer: The real problem with air travel is the simple task of getting on and off of the airplane.  

Furthermore, I contend that the solutions to the issues causing so much passenger consternation are fully within the control of the airlines.  As a matter of fact, the airlines have largely created what appears to be the biggest contributor to the problem – baggage fees.

Baggage Fees

When I say that Baggage Fees are an issue, I don’t mean in the traditional, monetary sense, rather in the human behaviors it has created as a result.  By lowering prices slightly (and temporarily I might add), then adding on the “optional” baggage fees, the consumer has now been given an incentive to not check their bags.  This leads to slower TSA screening, crowded gate areas, and difficult boarding.  To exacerbate the issue, the aircraft crew most often does not actively manage the boarding process and participate in helping passengers load bags into the overhead properly, resulting in the space being woefully mismanaged.

So for those not fortunate enough to be in the front half of the line, they are left searching for a place to put their bag, most often behind them, which leads to swimming upstream like a salmon to retrieve one’s bag once the plane “has come to a complete stop”.  The fear of not securing adequate overhead space for what you know is a bag way too big, leads to cattle herding around the gate when the first boarding announcement is made.  While it is not exactly a mosh pit, it does take some diplomacy to squeeze through.  In some cases this is still better than the dreaded gate check, which most certainly adds to delayed deplaning for all parties.  I believe the ease at which a passenger can handle this gauntlet correlates directly to how often they fly, but could easily be improved if there were no bag fees and/or better load management by the flight crew.

The Infrequent Flyer

The Infrequent Flyer has the deck stacked against them from the get go, and it all starts with security screening.  The TSA will tell you the disparate and inconsistent procedures from airport to airport are part of the protocol to “keep terrorists on their toes”, but I’m not buying it.  Once successfully through security, the Infrequent Flyer is faced with a boarding pass that contains about 10 times more information than anyone needs.  I’d like to see the paper boarding passes more closely resemble the smartphone version: Destination, Flight Number, Time, Gate, Seat #, and a Bar Code.  The other 300 characters of text do nothing but confuse the Infrequent Traveler.  As pointed out above, the cattle herding at the gate will not cease  until the baggage issue is solved, so I am not expanding on that any further.  Once aboard the plane, the flight crew should take some pride in ownership of the boarding process and make sure that every bag that comes on board is stowed properly – that might mean moving up and down the aisle and physically turning suitcases around in the overheads and even removing smaller items for passengers to put under the seat in front of them.  Do you just let your kids throw the suitcases in the trunk before a road trip?  Of course not – you know they will not all fit unless you assist in loading.

Lack of Design Innovation

At the end of the day, the Baggage Fee issue will likely resolve itself when the airline realizes that the entire baggage hold on the plane is mow empty and they can install seats and market them as “steerage” or “super economy class” – now that’s innovation – better bring your mittens.  Kidding aside, we all know that innovation in the airline industry does not have a great track record.  Sure, some amenities have improved like  individual media/entertainment centers, lay down beds, satellite TV and in-flight Wi-Fi, but who are we kidding.  If you showed even the newest model Airbus or Boeing to Howard Hughes or Charles Lindbergh, they would likely shrug their shoulders and say “it’s an airplane, so what?”.

I don’t know if I read it somewhere in the past or what (I would hate to take credit), but someone needs to ask Disney or NASA how they would design an aircraft that could load passengers and carry-on bags more efficiently.  The problem is that it is almost too late now – all airports are being designed to accommodate what has become  a “standard” aircraft configuration – “single tiny door (maybe 2) connected to the airport terminal via retractable jet bridge, loaded in a single file fashion”.  Makes me cringe reading back what I just wrote.  Imagine if we loaded trains that way.  What if airplanes opened up with gull wings, and passengers could be loaded in multiple queues – even if not an opening for each seat, what if there was a door every 10 rows?  Think about how quickly you can get off and on a roller coaster!

What if all passenger loading and securing of carry-ons happened inside of the terminal in a “pod” that was then lifted and placed inside of the awaiting airplane through doors like those on the Space Shuttle cargo bay or sliding it into the plane through an open nose cone?

Certainly we can design a plane with enough structural rigidity to pull this off and maintain cabin pressure and comfort?  Treat me like cargo please.

Come on man.

Tell me what you think – is innovation in commercial aircraft design the answer?

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The Case for Customer Lifetime Value…


Just when things were going great…

Not long ago, I praised a certain  Big Satellite Company  for the outstanding customer experience I had when moving across town (despite some other shortcomings – full article here).  This past month, with a single billing related event, Big Satellite Company almost destroyed our relationship forever.  Let me tell you a story.

Thirteen years ago

As cable TV was riding high and the internet was still a baby, I placed a bet on who I wanted to deliver television content to my home.  Primarily due to the exclusive availability of a certain sports programming package, my bet was placed on (what is now) Big Satellite Company.  For over a decade, through four moves in two states, my chosen television delivery partner provided a fantastic experience in all facets of our relationship, to include my most recent move (full article here).

This year, as a result of some uncertainty with the professional sports league featured in the programming package, Big Satellite Company made a wise move (in my opinion) by not automatically renewing customer subscriptions for this package until the leagues disputes were settled.  However, once resolved, subscribers like myself were forced to contact Big Satellite Company and re-subscribe to the package.  This was not the end of the world assuming I was able to simply renew the subscription, at the previously established renewal rate.

Herein lies the rub

As I prepared to renew the programming package, the pricing I was offered via the website was approximately $85.00 more than what I had paid for previous seasons.  I contacted the customer service center via telephone and was offered a statement credit of $5.00 per month for the next 12 months.  That still left us $25.00 apart from what I felt was fair.  As I was on the telephone, I looked into my account billing history, and proceeded to inform the service agent that as a 13-year subscriber, my customer lifetime value to date exceeded $23,000 and I asked her if she was prepared to let me walk over $25.00?  She responded with a counter offer of additional free services and content, and ultimately got us to where we were only $5.00 apart.  I asked again, are you ready to let me walk over $5.00?  She was.  At this point, I decided to perform an experiment by NOT asking for a supervisor and simply saying “no thank you”.

Everyone who heard this story said “you should have asked for a supervisor, you would have gotten what you wanted” – to this I say, the companies to which we send our hard-earned money in exchange for services, need to have more respect for their customers. The protocol for solving a customer problem should never end with the customer leaving.  I argue that the customer service agent should have proactively escalated me to a supervisor with more authority as opposed to letting me walk.  Most consumer technology services companies (i.e. phone, TV, internet) seem to be in a customer acquisition arms race, as opposed to focusing on serving the customers they already have.

So how does the story end?

Last week, approximately 3 weeks after the incident described above, I was contacted by a “manager” from Big Satellite Company who proceeded to offer me the desired programming package renewal, discounted beyond what I paid in the previous years, plus the additional services and content from the previous negotiation.  Apparently he is one guy who knows it is cheaper to keep a customer than acquire a new one – it’s a shame it took 3 weeks to escalate through the CRM system.  This could have easily been avoided if Big Satellite Company had a robust customer segmentation system and armed the customer service agents with a well thought out “next best offer” strategy for retention of key accounts – maybe even immediately pushing my call to a more senior or experienced agent given my tenure and status.

Have you had a similar experience?  Or is your company losing customers faster than you can acquire them?

Tell me about it.

Did you know that I have now posted more than 30 articles on this blog?  If you read and enjoy the content, please don’t be afraid to Comment, Share, Like, Tweet, +1, or whatever you do.  I would greatly appreciate the feedback.

Yeah Dad, But They’re From Akron…


In my adolescent years, a fan favorite amongst my friends was the series of “Vacation” movies with Chevy Chase for all of the subtle , sophomoric one-liners, laced with double-entendre. Being from the Akron area made the European Vacation movie especially fun – if you can write to me and tell me about the scene I quote in the title above, I have a special prize (HINT: the prize is an invite that starts with a “G” and ends in “+”).

What does Where we are from, say about Who we are?

For centuries, the difference between friend and foe was often as simple as geographic boundaries. There was no thought given to the trials and tribulations, aspirations and dreams, or the wants and desires of “the others” only the belief that they must be conquered. Sad to say, many of today’s leading consumer brands still feel this way. These brands have been extremely succesful at conquering the U.S. and maybe a few other “mature” markets, but when it comes to global expansion, they are learning that a one-size fits all approach will not work.

Will “What plays in Peoria“, play in Singapore?

The motivations and aspirations of the consumer sector vary greatly from region to region, and again from country to country, and yet again when comparing urban and rural consumers within a single country. We all know this is true and inherently understand it by being a part of it – in the U.S. that means red states, blue states, and even “green” states, but diving deeper exposes distinct groups even within the states, counties, cities, and even neighborhoods. So how do you know how various population groups will respond to your call-to-action? It seems obvious to most of us the differences between New Jersey, Manhattan, and Long Island – but given the close geographic proximity to each other this could be difficult for a non-American (or non-East Coaster) to understand that the three groups of consumers in these areas couldn’t be more different. The same could be said for a wider geography – say we compared the attitudes and aspirations of consumers in the major metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston – talk about three different worlds; and this doesn’t account for the Bible Belt, the Rust Belt, or much less anyone not in the hustle bustle of the northeast. A product launch in NYC will (and should) look very different than one in Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, or L.A. And what about the population segments in the suburbs of those cities – surely you can see how complex and challenging it is to identify the right consumer audience in a country where you’ve never lived.

Don’t forget – I have Google+ invites for those that tell me about the scene I quote in the title above…

Fueling the Army of Stupid


The 24 hour news cycle was first popularized on television and led to the creation of a multitude of “news” shows and channels.  This conditioned consumers into believing that all of this “news” was actually “news” worthy and hence, needed to be consumed.   The internet has exploited this human condition and is continuing to spiral out of control with the online media outlets and social networks enabling the masses to share, tweet, like, +1, or worse yet, comment on these largely sensationalized and manufactured news stories – resulting in the current real-time news cycle.

This is all well and good if those that are most “engaged” are not members of the Army of Stupid.  So who exactly pledges allegiance to this flag of ignorance?

My totally unscientific study concludes that approximately 75% of internet users who comment on articles, stories, and other postings, suffer from a debilitating symptom of the “real-time” news cycle.  Stupidity.  These consumers share no common demographic or geographic traits (unlike a closely related faction, UFO abductees) other than a narcissistic belief that a) they are right, and b) someone cares.  Not to be confused with ignorance, which is somewhat excusable and even curable, this condition can be best summed up by the great Ron White – “You Can’t Fix Stupid“.

Let me offer three recent maddening observations:

The Casey Anthony verdict – If you were not a) a jury member, b) an observer in the courtroom, c) a lawyer with access to all of the evidence, or d) a Kardashian, please don’t clog up the social sphere with your opinions.  It’s pretty bad when national TV networks and the plethora of cable news channels are streaming tweets and comments across the screen – since when does “Joe”, a plumber from Des Moines, have a newsworthy opinion on a criminal court case?  And don’t get me started on the “legal” media figures propagating and rewarding this behavior, ahem, Nancy Grace, you know who you are.

Facebook’s integration with Skype / Launch of Google +1 – I have been in or on the periphery of the technology industry for about 20 years, and it still amazes me how polarizing technology can be, with legions of (blind) followers on each side of the proverbial fence accusing the [insert favorite tech giant] of “copying” [insert hated tech giant].  IBM vs Apple, Apple vs Microsoft, AOL vs Compuserve, Yahoo vs Google, Google vs Microsoft, Microsoft vs Yahoo, Google vs Apple, and so on – bottom line is that once you become “giant” the innovation largely stops – they just keep repackaging the same stuff with improvements to design and functionality – appealing to the audience of the moment.  Video chat is not new, nor is social networking – and frankly, the combination of the two isn’t new either.  No one accused Mercedes of copying BMW when they added Bluetooth as an option, right?

The belief that [insert favorite tech giant] is infallible – While many believe that the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple will never be anything but dominate in their pursuits, one doesn’t have to look too far back to see former darlings reduced to rubble (AOL, Netscape), slowly plodding along with little growth (Microsoft, Cisco) or even fighting to hang on (Nokia, RIM).  There will always be something newer, shinier, better, cheaper, and faster around the corner – companies were not made to last forever and the giants of today will eventually be displaced.  So save your “so-and-so is the greatest” and “so-and-so sux” (the ending in “x” is another greater marker for stupidity) comments to yourself unless you can back it up with some sound supporting evidence.

Anyone out there suffer from Marketing Withdrawal?


It has been said that on a daily basis, American exposure rates to advertising and marketing messages in ranges from as low (low?) of 500 to several thousand and beyond depending on the source.  Most Americans have tuned out buzz and as a result most marketing messages are wasted.  However, in my case, as Marketer I pride myself on trying to be exposed to even more than the average bear so I can continue to build my body of knowledge and understanding of what is working and what is not.  I quickly, but carefully, look at each email, direct mail piece and banner ad presented to me.  I’m the kind of nerd that  likes sorting and taking inventory of my direct mail mail at home; this enables me to create an index or barometer of sorts in my mind about the state of marketing and more specifically consumer targeting and relevance in my small part of the world and for my “peeps” who share my demographic category – we typically receive multiple pieces for each category below in either CRM or prospecting efforts on a weekly basis:

  • financial services
  • automotive dealers and manufacturers
  • insurance companies
  • credit card offers
  • cable and satellite TV
  • real estate
  • travel
  • education and seminars
  • pool cleaners, landscapers
  • local restaurants and shops
  • home improvement mag-a-logs
  • mail order catalogs

You name it, we get it; the volume of mail ebbs and flows to a cadence I quickly would recognize.  I gleefully open and devour each one, thinking about the relevance, the creative and the offer presented.   Now that I have moved to a new house, our mailbox is very empty these days.   Since much of this mail is not sent First Class, it is not forwarded by the post office, and the mailer will have to wait until they process their file through the NCOA process to discover that I have moved.  The fact is, moving in to a new house costs money and advertisers are missing a key behavioral cue – when you move you need things and you are eager to spend on building the nest.  We also need to know who delivers take-out food here, where is the closest grocery, and where I will get my dry cleaning done.

You may have read on this blog the on-going saga related to my recent residential move and the customer service challenges we have faced with the various service providers for [Satellite TV] [DSL Internet] – the DSL situation was never resolved and I have since cancelled the service.  In trying to place an order for Cable Internet service there seems to be some complications there as well – more to come.  I thought we were becoming a service economy?  If so what happened to service? 

Anyway, as a result of no direct mail and no internet access at home (for nearly a month now) I must say that I am suffering from Marketing Withdrawal.  As a Marketer, I feed on marketing and rely on it to spark new ideas and thoughts.  Has anyone else suffered this condition?

You want it by when? OR Free beer tomorrow?


Recently I wrote about my experience [Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy] when moving across town to a new house and the moving service provided by my satellite television company.  Now I am going to tell you a tale that will certainly shock and awe the reader…

You want it by when?

One week prior to moving day, I contacted my DSL provider to inform them of the new address and request a move of my service. At that time, I was told that “because of the various switches and networks in my city” that they could not simply move my service, rather they needed to disconnect at my current service address and then re-establish service at my new address.  As a former network engineer this seemed plausible (they recently merged/acquired a provider in my area), although in my opinion highly inexplicable, in today’s “wired world”.  I was given a date that the new service would be active and was instructed to call back if there were any issues on that date.   The date given was more than 2 weeks away.  Dumbfounded why it would take so long, I begrudgingly said thanks and decided to wait it out.  While I was away in Hong Kong  [Fortune Cookies],  my wife was in touch with the provider when the service did not work on the date promised.  This also meant no “iPhone FaceTime” while I was away which did not make my wife too happy.  We are now approaching 4 weeks without internet service at home and they have no-showed for each appointment (8 to noon window) we have been given on successive days going back to last week.  Have you ever seen a sign hanging over a bar that says “Free Beer Tomorrow”?  Yeah – it kinda feels like that.

The Silver Lining

Throughout this ordeal, we have had an outstanding customer service agent who has been chasing down supervisors, dispatchers, and installers to escalate my issue and try to get it resolved – so much so, that she provided her personal cell phone number so that we can reach her and keep her abreast of what is not happening.  She has provided a stellar example of how to be a customer advocate – too bad her company is failing her.  She is the only reason I am seeing this through and have not defected (yet).

So what is the moral of the story?

  1. Setting customer expectations then exceeding them should be your goal.
  2. Being responsive doesn’t mean making promises you can’t keep.
  3. Own your customer’s issues.
  4. Be a Customer Advocate and make every attempt to create a happy customer.

Tell me about your experience with customer service (good or bad) – Zappos and Apple aside, is great customer service really a thing of the past?

 

Fortune Cookies = Source of Great Advice For Business Developers


I recently returned home following a week in Hong Kong working with a new client.  While “that” part of the world is typically very different from what U.S. marketers are accustomed to, I was subtly reminded at the conclusion of a fantastic traditional dinner at The China Club that the philosophical waxings of fortune cookies are truly universal and still a great source of advice…

China Club, Hong Kong - Fortune Cookie

Image Property of Mark Donatelli - Taken with an iPhone 4

Spray and Pray is NOT a Customer Contact Strategy


My family and I recently moved  into a new house, and in the process I utilized the “moving” services offered by Big Satellite Company [name changed to protect the guilty].  I was a little perturbed when I was unable to coordinate the moving service online, but that’s another topic.  Anyway, all went well and the move went great – they even threw in some free premium channels for free as a “value add” to using the service.  Great way to protect against attrition to competing companies or, god-forbid, cable.

Here’s the kicker – a day later I received an email from Big Satellite Company asking me “Did you know that you can manage your account online?”.  My first inclination was to reply and ask them “Do you know that I had been doing so for my 10+ years as a customer?  Not to mention that the account service I most recently used was not accessible online?”.

Obviously there is a business rule trigger that sent me the email, likely because I called in to the service center to request the moving service, but the automation rules failed to recognize the fact that:

  1. I am frequent user of their online system for account changes.
  2. The service most recently used in not available online.

To borrow from the ESPN crew, C’mon MAN!

I know this is probably rocket-science to some, but companies can do better!

Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy – by this I mean that automating communications with your customers should not be done simply for the sake of doing it, and furthermore, not all customers are created equal.   A sound Customer Contact Strategy should span each and every potential interaction a company could have with a customer regardless of contact or delivery channel.  And, these contacts should be well thought out, situational, and personalized to maximize relevance to the customer.  This results in improving sentiment towards your brand with the big payoff being not only the retention of customers, but perhaps more important, the recommendation of your product or service to the customer’s extended “network” of friends, family, and colleagues via social networks .  This is often exacerbated by the  interactions being handled through different software platforms and the wide spread practice of outsourcing portions of CRM processes to different companies (or handled internally by different teams)  as well as the proliferation of subcontracted delivery channels – but trust me when I say that it can be done!

Ask me how…

If the World is Flat, why do you need a Sherpa?


Flat Earth Sherpa

By now, I am sure you all have read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman?  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you read it right away – it will change the way you think about the future that is already here.  With that said, the basic premise that I took away from the book in a single sentence is that technology has essentially “flattened” the  Earth by enabling real-time collaboration on a global basis. The concept of a small manufacturer in India, sourcing raw materials in China, perhaps on Alibaba, with funding via micro loan from the UK, and selling finished goods on eBay to an American consumer is now a reality.

This is where the irony enters.

This new flat Earth has been a tremendous enabler for small and medium-sized businesses, but has muddied the waters for much larger companies.  I spend a great deal of my time consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable consumer brands, and for the most part these companies recognize and are actively trying to exploit this new flat Earth, but frankly they have no idea how to choose the best countries for expansion, how to maximize growth for those countries they are already in, and in either case, how to navigate the myriad of technology, data, cultural, legal and consumer privacy challenges.

Hence, the need for a Sherpa (hint: ME).

If your company or if you have a client that is facing these types of Global Expansion challenges in this new flat earth, please let me know – I can lead the way.

It has been a while since I have posted an article, and I certainly have no shortage of topics to write about; the fact remains that  I simply do not have enough time in the day.  And to add insult to injury, my travel schedule and client load keeps me flush with article ideas, but  no time to write about them.  I actually did some of the final editing for this post on my new iPhone 4 (more on that in future articles) while my son drank his milk and watched Little Einsteins from my lap!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and keep your eyes open for a few rapid-fire posts over the next week or so – having not written in a while, they will be based on my travels and observations over the last couple of months.  Don’t forget to leave your comments and provide feedback.

Thank you for reading and Happy Hunting!

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing RIGHT…


We’ve all heard variations of this sentiment – many credit it’s creation to Hunter S. Thompson in his epic adventure “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” (yes I called it epic).  Having spent nearly 7 years in the Army, I vehemently subscribe to this train of thought and often find myself discouraged when business owners and marketers take short cuts to save a buck now, when in reality they could be costing themselves more in the long run. 
Here are 2 recent “personalization” experiences that illustrate the point (I have changed the names to protect the guilty).  In both cases, these prestigious, national brands are applying technology to reach consumers with personalized communications, but the effort is lackluster at best due to some shortcomings on the data side:
 
I am a subscriber to the print edition of Super Cool Business Magazine, although I have not activated or created an online profile with the companion website.  My subscription to the magazine was offered to me via direct mail, and I responded (and paid) via the web, and this is not the only title from the publisher to which I subscribe.  So – let’s recap.  The publisher has my name and postal address, as well as information about other magazine titles they offer to which I also subscribe.  They have my personal email address derived from the online subscription activation/payment as well as online profiles associated with other titles
 
Herein lies the rub – over the last month or 2, my wife has been receiving emails from Super Cool Business Magazine and “trusted partners” personalized to me (“Dear Mark”).  Obviously they have performed some sort of email address append to their file and/or performed some data massaging to “household” my record – the result is that my wife’s personal email address is associated with my name and postal information.  I say to her – “No problem – just forward me the email, and I will go online and update my communication preferences to include my email address instead of yours”.  Easier said than done.  When I clicked the link in the email to make changes to my profile, the only option was to completely unsubscribe.  So I did – too bad for this publisher – now their database is short one email address and who knows how many others experienced the same thing?  All of this results from having the right intentions (combination of marketing + technology) but with poor execution. 
 
My second example comes to us from a respected German automaker; my wife and I both drive cars from this brand and we loyaly use the local dealership for our maintenance and repair needs.  Our vehicles are both model year 2004 sedans, but different models.  The dealership’s use of email as a CRM extension and marketing tool has been sporadic at best.  The various emails we receive related to marketing promotions, coupons, and service appt reminders all seem to be coming from different systems – to the point that the email templates (colors, logos, fonts) seem to have no cohesive design elements connecting them. 
 
Herein lies the rub – the dealership cannot seem to get my email address associated with me and my vehicle, and my wife’s email address associated with her and her vehicle.  They will personalize a marketing message with “Dear Mark”   and reference my Model/VIN# in an email to my wife and vice-versa.  Sometimes, the emails will have her name and my VIN# to my email address.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason.  To add insult to injury, there is no way to go online and self-police the data in a communication preference center – again, the only option is to unsubcribe, and the unsubscribe page for each email is different.  We have even made calls to the dealership providing updated information to no avail – it appears that the dealer marketing system, the dealer service scheduling system, and the corporate marketing database are not synchronized. 
 
So what’s the lesson?  Don’t take shortcuts and make sure your data is in order before personalizing communications or at least offer a 2-way dialogue that enables consumers to contribute to the conversation.  Here is a great article on personalizing email communications from MediaPost:
 
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