Friday, December 31, 2010

What are they saying? Or not...

How many vacant letters of recommendation have you read, or Linkedin endorsements have you received updates about that say nothing? Social media is opening up the floodgates of information about peers, colleagues and employees (notwithstanding my current employer’s social media policy that prohibits such behavior). But judging by the recommendations and referrals I’ve seen lately, it’s not much more than a bigger sea of sameness and genericism.

Now that performance review time is upon us again, I pride myself on taking the time to actually think about the individual whose performance I am charged with reviewing, and to write comments and feedback that could ONLY be for that particular individual. Anything less is a cop out in my opinion and not worth my or their time. Same goes for referrals and recommendations. What is the point of?

Recommender #1

“NAME has tremendous expertise in the sales and marketing of new homes and large-scale master planned communities. NAME’S knowledge of sales and marketing programs is undeniable, and NAME’S reputation within the industry in unparalled.”

Or, for the same individual…

Recommender #2

“NAME’S experience is unsurpassed.”


Undeniable. Unsurpassed. Unparalleled. NAME must be amazing… but I learned nothing new to help inform a decision from these adjective-laden posts. Too bad NAME’S reviewers couldn’t provide one tangible reason why. It seems to me that if you are going to take the time to provide a referral or write a review, your time is best spent going back to basics. What are the specifics about your experience with that particular individual and the tangible examples of their greatness? The proliferation of information channels makes that even more important. If I am reading 12 recommendations about NAME, why not be the one who took the time to actually SAY something?

Maybe it's just a personal pet peeve, but I'm over "Unparalleled, unsurpassed, and undeniable" with no substance behind it. Sigh... we're all marketers at heart I suppose. But even in the world of referrals and recommendations great marketing stands out from the rest of the pack.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hellllllllllloooooo Alaska Airlines????

It's been 4 weeks since my trip from Kelowna-Seattle-San Diego on Alaska Airlines. You remember the trip (AS 482, Sunday Dec. 5th), delayed, then pulled back to the gate and delayed again. And despite the pre-holiday lack of patience many customers showed, the flight attendants were awesome, keeping us up to date and current.

This was the crew that handed out a free 1,000 bonus Alaska MVP Miles. Great gesture, but what about any fellow passengers who don't participate in this program? Thinking my preferred airline would want a suggestion, I reached out. Well, unlike their competitor Continental Airlines, I am saddened to report that after two friendly attempts at contacting their "Customer Care" folks via their website, still no reply. Sure, I can write off this past week due to Santa and festivities, but really? I've been an MVP or MVP Gold for 10+ years with Alaska, and do truly love their service, and for the most part their schedules.

My trusted, admired and preferred brand though - is losing some esteem the longer I go with no reply. New Year's Resolution - no answer by this time next week and I am calling them!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oprah launches "OWN" network with none of her own start-up capital ... really?

I don't know why we watch Entertainment Tonight anyway - the show format just makes me crazy - running previews within the body of the show to the point that by the time the actual 47 second "story" airs you've seen it all, five times minimum, along with the "stories" being followed for tomorrow night's show, also five times each.

Tonight's show featured a story about Oprah's soon-to-be-launched cable TV network, "OWN" (Oprah Winfrey Network) and the ridiculous assertion by some guy whose name I missed that she's launching it "without any start-up capital of her own". Her media partner Discovery apparently put up $189M for their part in the 50-50 joint venture, in addition to proferring their underwhelming Discovery Health channel for OWN's spot on the dial.

Sounds huge right? What's Oprah bringing to the party? No greenback capital perhaps. Her contributions are her brand name, her 25-year Oprah Winfrey Show library and her website Sounds like at least $189M worth to me! Think of the impact her endorsement has had on media properties, authors, movies, health, whatever. Like her or not, she's had a massive impact on popular culture for at least two decades.

And there's value in that brand called Oprah. That's what a brand is all about - a valuable, tangible business asset. In her case, she built hers to the point that it can launch a new TV network. Repeat after me: there's value in a brand...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Social media usurps the Christmas letter

For the past five years, since moving to California, we've written a long and detailed Christmas letter, sharing stories of life in our adopted country, adventures with new friends, complete with pictures of the year's events. Some recipients tell me when our card and letter arrives they brew a pot of tea, or cup of coffee and settle in for a good read, as the stories of our past year unfold. One sitting, one static event, driven by the specific point in time coinciding with the arrival of a hard copy letter. This year we didn't write a letter, and while I can come up with any number of excuses as to why (a serious illness in the family, a busy stressful year at work, the exciting arrival of a new grand baby, the loss of our dear cat Jack, the usual heavy travel schedule, and many other countless complications of daily life) I think there may actually be "game changing" reason why.

Social media has usurped the traditional Christmas letter!

Our year has unfolded and been memorialized in Facebook posts, blog entries, and the occasional Tweet ... Yes, social media has usurped our Christmas letter this year. So, just like so many other things in life that are more immediate, like the 24/7 news cycle, our "Christmas" letter unfolded in real time throughout the year in posts, status updates, tagged photos, and tweets, consumed as and when you wanted it, over a coffee, as you sat in traffic, got your nails done, or waited at the doctor's office. On your time, however and whenever you wanted it. Just like everything else in the world today - there when you want it, and not when you don't.

Far from being a traditionalist, I firmly believe things are never going to be the way they were before so many societal shifts and the world-changing events of the past couple of years. And I'm thankful for that!

But there is a certain art of the letter that gets lost in all this evolution and forward-looking change. Take my 75-year old mother, who for countless years made herself a cup of coffee and sat down to write her sister a letter every Sunday. Aunty Vi passed away last week, and I'm sure at some point today there was a space in my mom's day where she wondered what to do with herself. Perhaps that explains why I received three emails from her! She's hit the real time just like the rest of us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pilot sends me free pens, for my free product opportunity advice.

After my rant about the hard to open packaging of the Pilot pen I bought two weeks ago tomorrow in the Seattle airport, Pilot responded by email (see previous post) and promised to send me some samples for taking the time to write. Well, they made good on their promise and sent not one, but three standard-sized pens, one mini pen and three packages of ink refills. Totally not necessary and unexpected.

What was more meaningful was their commitment to pass the idea along to their marketing team for consideration in new product development. I think they meant it.

It's great to see companies like Pilot (and Continental Airlines, see yesterday's post) who get involved in a two-way dialogue with their customers. I'm reflecting back to 2007 when TIME Magazine chose "YOU" as the person of the year, and Ad Age chose "THE CUSTOMER" as the agency of the year, that same year. It's easy to forget that just a few short years ago companies and brands as big as these typically didn't take the time to respond to most comments. The world has changed, customers really are in control and hats off to those who get that.

I know I will stay on the hunt for it, and will continue to share news and reviews of it here. So go forth and listen to and talk with your customers, the good and the mad!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Continental Airlines Responds ... and I am inclined to believe their promise.

Dear Ms. Slavik-Tsuyuki:

Thank you for including Continental Airlines in your travel plans. We appreciate the time you took to let us know about your experience. It is disappointing to learn of the negative impression we created.

The behavior you described is not reflective of our commitment to providing our customers the highest level of service. I apologize for the negative impression this situation created. We intend to provide a high-quality experience, tailored to meet the individual needs of our passengers.

We work hard to correct both issues brought to our attention. Although we cannot explain the inappropriate behavior, we can work to correct it. This matter will be addressed internally and considered confidential. You will not receive further information; however, your concerns will be taken very seriously, and I am confident necessary corrective action will be taken.

We hope you will not judge us based solely on this experience.


Ms. T. McGlothen
Customer Care Manager

TRACKING NUMBER: A00006426648-00042060327

-----Original Message-----

Sent: 10 Dec 10 10:37:29
Subject: Future Travel

Submitted: 12/9/2010 10:47:08 PM

OnePass Number: DC826164

Subject: Future Travel
Reply: Not applicable

Message: I fly Continental multiple times a year, sometimes multiple times per month. On yesterday's flight the behavior of your flight attendants was horrifying. It's an unfortunate trend I have seen more of, audibly putting down and complaining about other passengers. It's sad and unnecessary and left those around me yesterday feeling like under-appreciated cattle.

Read more here, in my blog post:

I send this to you only to show you the way it unfolded, and because I have to believe an airline as great as this would want to know how people feel while consuming your service.

Flight Number: 739

Flight Date: 12/8/2010

Approximate Departure Time: 9:00 a.m.

Origin: Houston
Destination: San Diego

Airport: None
Date: None

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Flight attendants, please keep your voices down!

2010 hasn’t been as big a year of travel for me as 2009 and I am a little out of practice. This trip I left my iPhone and computer chargers at home. So I conserved phone battery power, and thankfully was travelling with another Mac user, enabling me to borrow juice from her charger.

In the past four days I have been on three different airlines, in two countries, one trip for pleasure and this one for business. And I am noticing something I don’t think I did last year. Or perhaps I was just de-sensitized to it and now it’s all coming back to me. Flight attendants, it seems, make no attempt to hide their impatience and disgust with the quirks and foibles of their passengers. I noticed glimmers of it last weekend on another flight.

This particular crew, Continental 739 (9:25am departure Dec. 8th, Houston – San Diego) is particularly bad.

A woman with two small children, looking frazzled as her children dragged and bumped their kid-sized carry-ons down the aisle asked if it was possible to change seats to sit together. I’d bet the two girls were 4 and 6-years old, maybe. Now admittedly I didn’t hear the whole conversation or witness first-hand how possibly demanding or unreasonable this passenger may have been. But I did get to witness the flight attendants after the fact, in the galley at the front of the cabin bitching and moaning about this woman. I mean bitching and moaning. Followed up by the same antics about the final passenger who boarded the plane when there was no remaining overhead space and he didn’t want to check his bag – for fear of losing it.

How bad could it have been to deal with these two customers, and who really cares? I didn’t want to hear about it, or be left with the feeling … “what do they say and think about the rest of us”? And then I wanted to smile at them and say, “I hope you are having a great day” or, “geez you should be glad to have a job, though you clearly hate it” or the final thought, “as a result of the woman and her children in seats whatever A, D, and F you can actually feed your family”.

I mean seriously. I know the airline business has been pummeled of late. As passengers dealing with reduced schedules, crammed planes, vanishing upgrades and checked baggage fees, we are all living the life. So, from a passenger’s perspective, I say if you hate it so much, get a new job. Have a little courtesy and spare us your whining about those of us who pay your salary. Here’s the deal, I’ll return my seatback to its full upright position, ensure my tray table is locked and stowed, and my seatbelt fastened, provided flight attendants … you please keep your voices down.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Response to a whacky product idea - from the Pilot pen company

Wow - check out this response from Pilot, after receiving an email from me to their customer care section of their company website, recounting my experience in the Seattle airport and resulting new product idea. I'm not sure whether to feel "blown off" or whether to watch the airport nearest me for the next big product innovation from my favorite pen company?

They do get marks though for the speed of the response, for spelling my name correctly, and for identifying the issue that was the subject of my comment (product packaging). Not bad, and a good example of a company engaged with customers.

They could have hit it out of the park for me if they had responded more authentically, like, "Hey, great idea we'll see if it makes sense". Or, "Crazy idea, we don't have enough 'airport"\' volume to support that notion, but thanks for the thought" instead of phrases like, "It brings us great pleasure..." and "for your continued writing pleasure".

Oh well, keep your eyes and ears to the ground to see what their marketing team does with it!

Dear Ms. Slavik-Tsuyuki,
Thank you for reaching out to us about our G2 Pro Gel Ink Pen. It brings us great pleasure knowing that you enjoy using our products. We always appreciate hearing from our satisfied customers and thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding your experience with the product packaging. Please be assured that your comments have been forwarded to our Marketing and Quality departments.

We would be pleased to send you a complimentary sample for your continued writing pleasure. This will be sent to the address you have provided.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. If there is anything else we can assist you with please feel free to contact me directly.

Holly Houser
Consumer Advisor

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Service Recovery - the Alaska Airlines way

Flight 482, set to depart Seattle, enroute for San Diego at 3:40pm. All is going well, I even got the last upgrade and am seated comfortably in 1D when (being the first customer in the plane and closest to the flight attendants) I hear rumblings about the "weather radar" and needing to call a mechanic for a part. I pull open my iPad and check FlgihtTracker and it tells me our estimated departure time is now 5:05pm. I know this before the crew it seems.

Turns out not to be that bad, but we endure a 35 minute flight delay as the part is installed and tested. During this time, some of the best flight attendants I've had do their best to apologize and calm these Sunday afternoon travelers. Kim, Amy and Stephanie deserve special mention (I will be sure and include that on my comment card after this flight).

All good, the part tests out, check. Safety demo complete, check. AS482 heads out on the runway at Sea-Tac and I'm calculating the delay in my head to determine if I need to text Pam and ask her to DVR tonight's Dexter episode when we just kind of stop. We've backed up from the gate, flight attendants are seated and we just kind of stop.

And we head back to the gate, this time it seems the in-flight A/C is malfunctioning. Same routine, Kim does her best to make the announcement and avoid passenger mutiny, and we wait. This fix is faster than the first and the mechanic is on and off the plane in less than 10 minutes. Part installed, check. Tested, check. And we enjoy the safety demo for the second time on this flight - because the door was opened. FAA regulation apparently.

Our patience is openly and authentically appreciated (I actually feel this) as expressed in the announcement and as we begin to push back from the gate the flight attendants hand out a card attached to a post card with the header "Our Apology". It entitles everyone inconvenienced on the flight today to 1,000 bonus miles in our Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account. Great! As a member for many years, that will be 1/20th of the way to MVP status next year for me. A gesture very much appreciated for what in the scheme of things is a minor delay.

Then I get to thinking, and listening to those around me. What if I don't collect miles on this airline or have a Mileage Plan account? What if this is the only time I ever fly Alaska? Sure the card gives you an option to sign up, but that makes the conciliatory offer a little less genuine perhaps? There are always cost controls to manage and "breakage" on these kinds of offers, but I wonder if my favorite airline has run the numbers on a "let's make it up to you" offer that gives their customers a choice? Maybe $25 to use on future Alaska Airlines travel? For non-Mileage Plan members that could pay for checked baggage or change fees if plans change, or a cocktail or snack pack. I should, but I don't know the cost per point, but I assume 1,000 points is likely in that range.

Costs aside, I have to believe the benefits of giving their customers a true choice, even if it is for future Alaska travel, would go further than a one-size-fits-all 1,000 points. As we reach our cruising altitude Kim informs us of another benefit on today's flight, free GoGoInflight WIFI, courtesy of Honda. All I had to do was watch an ad for the cool new CR-Z and give them my email address (they did give me the choice right there to opt-out of future offers) and land on a Honda page promoting the car:

I am a loyal Alaska Airlines traveler - they have the best options and the best service up and down the west coast, and I am appreciative of the 1,000 miles. But the lesson here for me today, seen in action, was give customers a choice and the apology is that much more valuable. And the other lesson? GREAT customer service goes a very long way. Kim and her crew have been serving and working with pride and it shows, even on one of the bumpiest rides I've experienced in months.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dear Pilot, I just discovered a new product opportunity for you!

I am at Gate C-12 in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, directly across from the Hudson News store. I had arrived in plenty of time for my connecting flight to Kelowna, BC and was catching up on email. Then I remembered I am actually entering another country, the country of my birth, and it requires that I fill out a Customs Declaration Card.

No biggee - I pick one up from the gate agent to discover I have no pen. Just my trusty mechanical pencil. No dice for filling out an official government form.

Ah ha - Hudson News will have one! And yes indeed, I debate between the plain blue Bics, or the Seattle souvenir types when I spot it - the Pilot G2-Pro, black ink, fine tip just like I like it. And I grab a pack of Rolos for the flight.

Then it hits, I CANNOT get the plastic "impenetrable-by-humans" packaging open. You know the kind I mean, that rips your hands if you even try without scissors. So I ask the gate agent if they have a pair I can borrow. WHAT am I thinking - we are in a secure airport at a boarding gate. No dice x2. I can run to the Guest Services Desk 10 gates away and miss my flight?

So Pilot ... I'm thinking, you probably sell a lot of pens in airports, with Hudson News and others. What a HUGE product opportunity, a package that you can actually open without sharp objects. Airport safe. And I can imagine there are countless other brands too, who could substantially improve their customers' experiences by developing something easy to open, airport safe.

Have no fear, I am now on the plane, seat 12D, with a bandaid on my right thumb.