Want to know how to turn off a potential customer, so much so that your product is no longer under consideration? Just be dumb…like Smart.

Mercedes Benz is actively selling the Smart in the U.S. and — since I drive a 2007 E320 CDi and love it — I was enamored with the Smart car and stopped by a local dealership this morning after dropping someone at the airport to check it out.

Often I hesitate to drive into car dealerships in my MB since salespeople make assumptions and swoop down hoping for a sale. The young woman who greeted me was pleasant, we looked at the Smart and she answered questions, and I knew a car with such a narrow wheelbase needed a test drive in order to determine if it was too bouncy to be in consideration as a commuter car for my bride (she leaves up to me the initial due diligence on cars and technology).

We’re six months or so out from making a new purchase and our first choice is a plugin hybrid and the 2009 Toyota Prius is the likely candidate, but this Smart car certainly seemed like quite a viable option and worthy of consideration.

Until my experience this morning at Smart Center Bloomington.

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Last time I checked, a search for Target‘s house brand, Trutech, resulted in a post I wrote from May of 2007 (Why you should NOT buy Target’s Trutech brand) being the #1 search result. Today, I noticed that it had fallen to #2 and that a “Target.com Official Site” sponsored link now appears. Perhaps that’s related, but maybe not.

My friend and Minnov8 cohort, Graeme Thickins, recap of last nights Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association social media panel (which I couldn’t attend) was fabulous. Best Buy, Fingerhut, Gage Marketing, General Mills and Target were all represented and had insightful things to say about what they were all respectively up to when it came to social media.

At last evening’s event, Thickins reported that a metric was presented that Target’s Facebook page has 33,000 members. While that’s interesting, that post I wrote has had ~75,000 pageviews (almost all unique visitors) and dozens of mostly negative comments.

I’ve reached out on several occasions to the woman that handles PR for Target’s Trutech brand; tried to connect with the video buyer; and in general reach out. Not to make a fuss, but to see if there is any awareness that they’re selling electronics that — God forbid you break the remote — can’t be operated with any of the dozens of universal remotes Target sells. Seems like something the video buyer might want to know and maybe fix while calming  the Target “guests” down, heh? (just read some of those comments and you’ll see people are quite agitated).

The Minneapolis StarTribune had an article about people posting negative feedback on their Facebook area which Target took to heart and jumped on, but is Target completely clueless and unaware of the tools to scan other social media and to address obvious shortcomings?

Debra Rossi

After my adventure with Wells Fargo the last couple of days, I was pleased to discover this morning that they’d fulfilled the account reinstatement from their mistake and we are back in business online. What I hadn’t expected was a call today from Wells Fargo Executive Vice President, Debra Rossi, who is the Head of Merchant Payment Solutions.

She apologized, made no excuses, told me about their recognition of the fundamental breakdown of their normal process (to call the customer before canceling them!), asked what she could do to make us whole, listened to me without interrupting and engaged conversationally while ending with her direct phone number in case I have any issues going forward. Tough to invest this kind of time when you’re running a major part of the Wells Fargo $573B business and undoubtedly have pressing matters piling up.

Ms. Rossi will also be supplying us with a letter of apology.

This call went a long way toward making up for the frustrating adventure and embarrassing shut down of our ecommerce, and now gives us the opportunity to communicate with our offended customers (those we know about anyway) so they don’t think we’re no longer reputable or somehow can’t handle Web commerce.

What was enlightening as well was this: my posting, her reaction and action, and a successful resolution (and, I’m certain, lots of awareness within the company so this doesn’t happen again to someone else) is a great example of social media and conversational marketing in action.

Though polite queries from Ms. Rossi and others yesterday about my original post were offered as being curious in nature, the implication was now that this matter was resolved would I take it down or what was my intention?  Today’s social and new media — and blogging basics — dictate that posts are not removed nor materially modified once published and I adhere to that philosophy and practice. It’s why I amended/updated yesterday’s post and am now writing a fresh one: to detail their action, call out and laud them for it, and to be transparent, but I’m compelled to leave the post up as-is.

Lastly, I always encourage my clients to do exactly what Ms. Rossi did: don’t let things fester as they’ll become infected like what happened to Dell Computer (remember “Dell Hell“?) and the PR disaster that rained down upon them…from which, one could argue, they’re still not fully healed.

Ms. Rossi did the right thing…and the smart one too.

UPDATE: See this post for final resolution that came in a phone call from a Wells Fargo executive.

Here’s a superb lesson in how not to manage your customer relationships and, especially, solve their problems.

What if your business was dependent upon online ecommerce and one of the processing chain providers cancelled your account without telling you, while the organization that owns the relationship and process cordially ignored you?

That’s what happened to us, and the big problem lies with our prime relationship, Wells Fargo, and how they dropped the ball (or stuff off the stagecoach if you like that metaphor better) and have not helped me resolve the problem in any way.

There’s a reason Wells Fargo uses a stagecoach as their symbol since it’s illustrative of the state of their leadership in merchant services…more aligned with the 1800’s than the demands of business in the 21st century.

WELLS FARGO AND PARTNERS HAVE ME IN A CHOKEHOLD
After six years of successful ecommerce running on one platform, our hosting company let us know in January they were pulling the plug March 31st. So we made a change, rebuilt our site on a new platform in the first quarter, and launched the third week of March before the old one went dark.

Our new platform required us to set up a new processing gateway (really the whole chain from payment gateway to back-end credit card processing with a third firm to bank and the money then in our account). I chose my personal and commercial banking company, Wells Fargo, since I trusted them. The bonus was there would be a single relationship point, they could set up the payment gateway with partner Authorize.net and the back-end processor, and it was actually less expensive then us going direct with the latter.

But it suddenly stopped working two and a half weeks after we launched.

For the first few weeks we received “successful transaction” settlement reports from Authorize.net and credit card orders were processing fine…and the last couple of weeks my staff flagged me that there were zeroes on these settlement reports. Since many people order by phone or fax even today — and our sales weren’t suffering dramatically and we didn’t have a mass mailing going out until this past Monday — we initially assumed it was the economic downturn, people getting acclimated to the new site and so on.

Yesterday two customers called about credit card payment failures on our site. I went online and tried two purchases myself with two different credit cards: they both failed. Digging in at Authorize.net, I was stunned to see dozens of failed transaction attempts.

You won’t believe what I’ve gone through to get this problem resolved and no, it’s still not fixed at 3pm CDT.


UPDATE as of 6pm CDT: See the resolution at the bottom of the post.

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Moviemakers of the suspense, horror and drama genres learned long ago that in order to build tension in the audience, slowly lowering the sound makes moviegoers start to strain to hear the dialogue (and yes, music and other sound is added to build to a crescendo). Tension builds, the muscles in the bodies of the audience tighten, they begin to lean forward slightly and THE HAND FLIES INTO THE SCREEN, GRABS OUR HERO AND THE AUDIENCE JUMPS IN THEIR SEATS SCREAMING!

Works every time.

Now take a technology we’ve used for a long time — conference calling on the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) — and realize that people calling in on a variety of devices (headsets, cell phones, office phones) add noise and the telephone system (and conference bridge) sample at only a measly 8khz. The result? Tension builds, our muscles tighten and we actually shift our attention (you know who you are….you surfin’ the web folks when you’re supposed to be listening to us on the call!) and the quality of the conference and what we’re trying to communicate to one another suffers.

Let’s look at Skype and how using it decreases tension and increases the quality. Sampling at 16khz means the quality is substantially higher than POTS and is so good that you can hear people breathe, move something on their desk or even click their mouse. The “resolution” of the audio is much higher and thus the call quality is better. The result? Lower tension (or none at all), the callers are relaxed and the communication is higher. Thankfully there are emerging conference bridges that can handle call-ins via Skype and sample at 16khz to maintain call quality (e.g., HighSpeedConferencing).

Let’s take this one step further to other forms of social media: Imagine you hosted a party and when your guests arrived, no one greeted them at the door, clusters of people were broken up into little cliques ignoring them, and as you glanced over at them in the doorway thought, “They’re on their own and are just going to have to figure out how to participate.

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Our economy is down, gas prices are up, jobs are being lost and outsourced, we’re at ‘war’ with possible escalation (e.g., attacking Iran), and there is tremendous uncertainty in nearly every industry being disrupted in some way by the connecting of the globe and the increasing influence of the Internet.

Let me submit for your consideration that the impact of social media — technologies, software and approaches connecting any of us willing to participate with them online — is pointing the way toward new systems and behaviors that will enable us all to move higher up the value chain as we learn how, together, we can create and deliver what the world needs in new and innovative ways.

One of the best op-ed pieces I’ve read in some time, The Cognitive Age, was published in the New York Times on Friday by David Brooks.

In this piece he’s putting globalization in context in this election cycle, which is chiefly on competition with other countries and the policies of government that ostensibly is accelerating job loss in the US. Brooks puts forth this premise which bears emphasis:

“The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

Then he outlines his central argument which, I should add, I completely agree with:

“The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.”

What does this have to do with social media and why does that category of technology matter?

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Today’s announcement by Adobe of the Open Screen Project has been well covered in the blogosphere. What hasn’t been well covered is the story-behind-the-story and that this is a major salvo in the hybrid application war.

I’ve written before about the rich, internet application (RIA) space (here, here and here for example) and the momentum being built behind the tools, approaches and delivery containers with content, data and functionality mashed up and delivered in a hybrid manner.

As the world is increasingly connected and broadband/wireless speeds increase (and device types proliferate with internet connectivity), the demand for more and more functionality integrating the desktop and the internet is accelerating and the major vendors (and open source ones) are trying to figure out how to empower us to create and deliver new digital assets that customers will value and buy.

What isn’t discussed much is the now primarily covert ‘war’ underway between Adobe with Flash (and AIR, Media Player, et al), Microsoft with Silverlight, Apple with WebKit (though little has been intimated publicly on what they might do in the RIA space or how they might leverage the stealth Quicktime installs on Windows with iTunes and the recent Safari Windows release) and Mozilla’s Prism. All are focused on how to provide a winning environment upon and within which content creators, developers and strategists can deliver ever higher value and create competitive advantage for they and their companies. Whoever pulls that off will win.

Four very different approaches, market positioning, tools to create and develop, and overall go-to-market plans (most of which an outsider can only guess at) but the promise of RIA’s is huge for applications and for us, whether we want to create-n-deliver or just enjoy the fruits of the labors of others: replacement for current web apps; completely new categories; and even one area we’re already exploring in my company, a new type of subscription/self-updating ebook that RSS feeds, video and audio automagically appear within when a subscriber opens it and is connected to the ‘net.

Who will win? I don’t know yet but the winner will be the one with the best tools, the largest runtime container distribution, and the most support from the ecosystem surrounding them. The momentum is with Adobe but, then again, it was with Apple in 1980 at the dawn of the personal computing industry, and we know how that turned out.

So many designers, user interface creators and arm-chair critics think they know what makes really compelling content, how ads should be displayed or even how a web site or application should be delivered. But do they? Do any of us really know what it takes to present and communicate content and ads that are truly compelling, cut above the noise, and garner attention from an increasingly scattered audience who have in front of them an overwhelming and accelerating number of choices?

One company is staking a claim to an understanding of the cognitive landscape behind our eyeballs with their quantitative and measurable solutions: NeuroFocus (via AdLab). Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, said this in a follow-up interview with Media Post: “We’ve found that about 75% of all content–not just advertisements–is not neurologically optimal.”

“For example, consumers interpret info on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brain. […] So an advertiser or TV show producer has reduced the engagement potential and effectiveness of their content from the onset if the bulk of the textual and numerical info is placed on the left side–with the imagery or brand logos on the right.”

The company obtains their results through biometric measurements. That means volunteers strap on a skull cap with electrodes on it and engage with the content and advertisements of which they’re presented. The thing that troubles me a bit, is that like the uncertainty principle in quantum physics, my experiences have shown that when observers know they’re being measured their behavior and cognitive processing changes. It does seem, however, that NeuroFocus’ research at least provides a baseline from which content and ads can be more precisely delivered. Then further refinement can occur (with we unaware and passive brains behind eyeballs) with other analytical tools or simple measures of clickstream data.

The Nielsen Company (the grandaddy of TV measurement) has made a strategic investment in NeuroFocus so they’re obviously on to something.

The promise (to advertisers) of the shift to internet-based ad delivery is measurement and to us (the online user) it’s ad relevancy, contextualized or personalized ads. Rarely does significant  and ongoing ad placement occur without measurement nor do venture capitalists sit still for long as ad-dependent-for-revenue companies attempt to drive user engagement and expansion of our involvement with their offering…and thus garner advertisers.

Solid measurement is healthy. Best practices more so as they’re indicators of actions we can take with understandable and quantifiable returns. It’s still pretty early in the evolution of the internet, but knowing what to do, how to deliver it and how to measure it is key to economic success on the ‘net and continued innovation.

To read more, take a peek at this well done New York Times article here and the CEO has a couple of mp3’s and a white paper here.

Dave Lebolt

After my rant and a subsequent email to Digidesign’s VP and GM Dave Lebolt (and their head of public relations) Mr. Lebolt called me this morning.

The intent of my post was to get attention. To be a scream loud enough to be heard from Minnesota to California. But not just so I could get attention, but rather attention paid to customers who paid money for product no longer functional coupled with an internal system at Digidesign not geared to today’s customer service and conversational marketing that I and the market demands.

We engaged in a fairly lengthy conversation about them, Apple, supporting the varieties of products and plugins they do, their people and the systemic infrastructure they have (e.g., their customer relationship management system) and what they need to have and do with it (e.g., interact with customers through alerts; implement RSS feeds so we don’t have to go back to their site over-n-over again to check and see if updates are available).

He also offered to buy back the MBoxPro2. Yes, I could’ve been one of “those” customers and leapt on the offer, but that was not my intent and I’d rather they get the Leopard upgrade out and tell me that it’s ready so I don’t have to go and poke around their site every week. As a management consultant in social media where transparency, conversational marketing and engaging with people who increasingly demand a voice is one of the key tenets of success in today’s marketplace, I have to eat my own dog food and bring attention to something so wrong and customer conversations so broken as my experience with Digidesign these last several months.

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The story I’m about to tell you is such a great lesson in how NOT to take care of (or manage) your customers, I had to share it with you. Take from this what you will, but there are such obvious lessons here for all of us that it might be as informative for you as this experience has been for me.

Four months ago I wrote a post entitled, “My Digidesign Paper Weight…” ranting about my experience with the MBoxPro2 I purchased to drive a new, more powerful Shure SM7B microphone — and record client interviews, do voiceovers and other work — and at the time (more than two months after Apple had shipped Leopard), Digidesign couldn’t even hint at when they’d support this new operating system.

Since that post, this MBoxPro2 has been worthless to me since it no longer functions with any of my machines and, of course, imagine how agitated I am with a total investment of approximately $1,500 now gathering dust for months and months.

Over the last five months, I’ve been to their site dozens of times to check on the status of a Leopard upgrade. Never obvious and tough to find, I nonetheless did but found nothing. Since so much time had elapsed — and terribly unusual in today’s marketplace — I reached out to Digidesign Customer Support who twice responded to my queries with recommendations:

1) To downgrade to Apple’s old Tiger OS (but you know the cascading effect of upgrading an OS and all your applications which also would need to be ‘downgraded’) and I only have a Tiger upgrade disk in my office closet and Apple no longer sells it…making this ‘fix’ not an option.

2) After pointing this out, a few days later they then recommended I go out and buy a Tiger install disk and install the old OS on a bootable hard drive, reinstall all the relevant applications, Digidesign’s non-Leopard-compatible version of ProTools as well as all the ProTools-compatible plugins I purchased OR go out and buy an old Mac. If both of these options weren’t so ludicrous in putting the burden of additional investment and the time-to-install effort on me, the customer, I’d laugh.

Here’s where the obvious lessons come in from the unbelievably bad customer service job they’ve done — and are doing — and why you should NEVER give Digidesign any of your money…ever:

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