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how to sabotage a successful customer relationship

ACT! 2006 by Sage software

I’ve often thought that if employees at a company replaced their own name with the name of the company where they currently worked, the employee would treat customers in a totally different way (more better even ;). I think that’s especially important in the increasing virtual business world we all work within, where we buy things from telephone operators, not from stores.

The following story I’ll share now took place today. It involved me and Sage, a software provider who makes the contact management software ACT!

This story is for exposition purposes only, offering my first hand account as a long time ACT! customer (including many upgraded versions and even securing corporate licenses for some of my marketing clients). It’s not written in anger or with a desire for vindication but it’s certainly meant as an example of how easy it is to sabotage a customer relationship if it’s not “your” name on the door.

I have a Treo 650 phone on which I often run my business (voiceover is a very mobile profession…always has been). When I bought the phone, I made a separate decision to also upgrade my contact management system so I bought ACT! 2006.

The purchase of ACT! 2006 was a disappointment in that to get questions about the software answered after 14 days, I’d have to buy a service agreement. I did because it is not easy software to use even having used past versions. After I got my some of my initial questions answered, I never used that service again. I wanted to manage my business, not my software. Oh well, live and learn, right?

At the time of the ACT! 2006 purchase I did not buy the ACT for Palm OS (might not have even been available at the time, come to think about it) which is software that would much of the functionality look and feel of the ACT! 2006 to be integrated on to my Treo 650. As you can imagine, that would be a great convenience.

When I had a Palm Pilot (another hand held contact management device, sans phone and internet like the Treo 650 has now) I had used a similar ACT for Palm software and I liked it very much. So I decided today that I was ready to buy the new ACT for Palm OS.

There was a catch though. My Treo 650 is almost three years old and I may be upgrading that phone to a Treo 700 or 750. I needed to make sure this version of ACT for Palm OS software would work in a newer Treo phones…I did not want to buy another version of ACT for Palm OS software if I did buy a new phone.

Buying Experience #1
So with that in mind, I called ACT! The first sales representative to whom I explained all this advised me of two things very clearly:

1. The current version of ACT for Palm OS would work on my current phone and the newer Treo versions
2. I had already purchased ACT for Palm OS.

Number two was quite a surprise to me I told her and she sent me over to customer service so that I could find out where my ACT for Palm OS software went…it certainly didn’t arrive in my mail.

Buying Experience #2
Customer service said she didn’t know what the other operator was talking about as no such purchase appeared on my record. She sent me back to sales so that I could buy ACT! for Palm OS software. The wait on hold was longer than with the first call to the sales department but eventually I had…

Buying Experience #3
This sales representative confirmed that:

1. I hadn’t purchased ACT! for Palm OS software
2. This current version of ACT! for Palm OS software would NOT work in the newer versions of the Treo phones

He further added that ACT! would be coming out with an upgraded version of the ACT! for Palm OS software that WOULD work in the newer Treo phones in the next four months.

I appreciated that update and asked if I did purchase the ACT! for Palm OS software today, would I be given the free upgrade to the version for newer Treos since I didn’t want to spend twice for basically the same software with minor tweaks for the newer Treos. He said he understood that logic and needed to check on that with “a manager”.

He came back on the line having spoken to his manager to advise me that he really wasn’t sure when the newer version would come out, he said he had only heard that “four month” time frame and nothing official had come out from ACT! so no, I would not be getting the free upgrade.

Big yellow flag for me!

Not having had such a great experience to this point on this call and because my original ACT! 2006 software purchase (and service agreement fiasco) came flooding back to me, I did not buy.

I don’t know if I should ever buy from them. I was a disciple of their software for years…Goldmine or Outlook or anything else couldn’t match ACT! Now I don’t think I could in good conscience direct someone to ACT! based on my most recent experiences.

I’ll leave it to you to tell me whether I am wise to avoid this company in the future, if I am over reacting or if this is just the way business is headed and I am expect too much regarding good service anymore. Right now, I think ACT! blew it with me.

guardian angels or microphones in the car?

Etch-A-Sketch Art. All copyrights acknowledged.

I’m not sure how this all works….whether it’s God, the cosmos, Guardian Angels or if someone is following me around with a microphone. But it seems as soon as a topic of interest comes up in my life or I think I have an understanding of something, some how I gain new insight or information from a totally unconnected source. It’s weird; here’s what happened.

This weekend my wife (or as David Feherty refers to his wife in his columns “She Who Must Be Obeyed”) and I got to talking about Etch-A-Sketches. The knobby drawing device many of us had as kids (I think we were talking about toy options for our child). She mentioned what a useless toy that was because she could never draw anything worthwhile on it. I wholeheartedly agreed as I couldn’t draw much on it either. So we agreed we’d never buy one of those useless Etch-A-Sketches.

(Stand by for a lesson in social media. Count the connections and also see how new connections are made. It’s a fun game with no height requirement )

Fast forward to today’s early morning review of the Google Reader and I pop in on Mitch Joel’s blog on Podcamp Singapore (that guy does all the cool stuff). In Mitch’s article, he referenced a blog by Andy Nulman entitled POW! Right Between the Eyes (which is as great a title for a blog as I have come across…content to match.) On Andy’s blog he writes about an Etch-A-Sketch artist who really knows how to turn those knobs.

OK, so “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and I were not so much wrong, it turns out, just both terribly Etch-A-Sketch challenged. The talented artists who create on their red canvas are really terrific! We’re still going to hold off on getting the Etch-A-Sketch because while she has proven to be a great artist in the Crayola world, the baby is clearly at a genetic disadvantage on the Etch-A-Sketch front.

for drew…the price is right

drew carey

I was doing some internet searches (and of course by now I’ve forgotten what I was searching for) but I saw a link to David Letterman’s web site. I’ve been a huge Letterman fan since I first saw him on Late Night With David Letterman. I remember the very first skit with him in it that hooked me. It was David Letterman teaching Jerry Garcia how to play “Proud Mary” on the guitar (sorry, I couldn’t find a clip).

So I rarely pass up a chance to visit Dave’s site since I don’t have the stamina to stay up late anymore. Well in a clip that I think may be airing tonight because I hadn’t seen any news on it earlier today, Drew Carey announces that he is to be the new host of The Price Is Right, replacing Bob Barker who’d been hosting the show since 1776 (“Ben Franklin! Come on Down!”)

This clip is great for a number of reasons in my opinion. The story seems very real and when the band strikes up TPIR theme song, Drew seems honestly thrilled and I share that happiness with him (although I won’t be enjoying his likely enormous paycheck).

I don’t know who I thought should be the host. OK, I really didn’t care except for one nominee I’d heard of (thank goodness THAT didn’t happen). But now I’m very happy for Drew Carey. Cleveland rocks!

and this year’s brand of the year is….

Coca-Cola Logo trademark acknowledged

A recent Harris Poll survey asked consumers the following question:

“We would like you to think about brands or names of products and services you know. Considering everything, which three brands do you consider the best?”

They’ve been asking this question since 1995. These are spontaneous replies. Respondents are not read or shown a list of brand names. Here’s the entire story and here are the top 10 winners with their 2006 ranking in parenthesis:

1. Coca Cola (3)
2. Sony (1)
3. Toyota (4)
4. Dell (2)
5. Ford (5)
6. Kraft Foods (9)
7. Pepsi Cola (not in top 10)
8. Microsoft (not in top 10)
9. Apple (10)
10. Honda (6)

Good news for Coca-Cola, bad news for General Electric (they were 8th in 2006, this year they did not crack the top10) and even better or worse news for some advertising agencies depending on where their client finished on the list.

I talk about brands all the time because it’s critical for the financial success of every business including the voice over industry. It projects the identity of a business in the mind’s eye and heart of its intended audience. Some people think this only means a great logo or a flashy web site but those are only two channels through which the marketing message gets sent.

Others think you can buy branding with enough money spent on advertising. No doubt there is a bit of weight to this theory, certainly a consideration based on the top 10 finishers…..but it is NOT the whole story.

While you need money to expose your brand and marketing themes to the masses, there are a variety of simple, low cost, even guerilla techniques any size business can apply in EVERY phase of their business. There are hundreds of books with the steps to make it happen.

From answering the phone to how to handle complaints, to invoicing to exterior landscape to business cards…everything about your customer’s experience and interaction with your company involves continually establishing, maintaining and/or changing their opinion about your business in their mind’s eye and heart. It simply never ends.

Looking at it that way, you can see branding often has little to do with a logo.

It has a lot to do with the company attitude – towards its customers, its industry and its own culture. Corporate culture is a part of branding? Oh yeah. When it comes to branding your company, start from the inside…then head out. Yes even the smallest company has an attitude and your customer both perceive and shape it.

So take a look at these companies….think about how you have interacted with them in your daily life…what makes you buy their product, feel safe about ingesting their food or giving it to your family, spending large chunks of money of their devices? Is it simply price? Or is it trust? Is it comfort? Is there a “coolness” factor involved? What makes them cool?

Now think about how you came to feel that way….how did you evolve (or in a negative case dissolve) into that perception?

From all that, what can you apply to your business? Yes you, the non multi-billion dollar, non-thousands of employees, non summer home on the Cape – you. Your business.

My point is the principles that are implemented by these top 10 brands are basic and can be applied to your business too but you must THINK about them, consider them and decide which to apply. They won’t all work and some you will not be able to afford. But some you CAN apply and some you CAN afford and some (many) you are NOT doing now.

So first think, then do. Enjoy the process…its one of the reasons you went into business for yourself in the first place.

(All brand trademarks and copyrights acknowledged)

judging your internet brand

perfect 10

Traveling along the internet super highway (which sounds more impressive than what I was really doing, which was scanning my Google Reader for updates) I came across this certainly less than scientific way to judge one’s internet brand presence.
I started with my main web brand: Peter O’Connell.

My score? A perfect 10 for 10. I figured I’d best stop while I was winning.

What’s your score? Enjoy.

take aways from steve jobs and the iphone sales presentation

apple’s steve jobs with the iPhone

A great product or service alone does not ensure a financial windfall. There’s this little issue of selling.

Notice I didn’t say marketing…I mean selling, where the rubber meets the road.

Apple’s iPhone now appears to have achieved sales success. My theory has usually been when you sell out and also get a bunch of press about what doesn’t work on the product (cause people love to tear about a success, it makes them feel better about their lack of success) then you’ve probably developed a winner.

While the technology was pretty terrific, I think much credit goes to Steve Jobs’ masterful iPhone presentation at Mac World in early 2007 that enthralled the audience and the web (oh, yes, the presentation has been viewed a few thousand times).

If you are in sales and make presentations to clients, you should watch the whole Jobs iPhone presentation here.

Then you should review communications coach Carmine Gallo’s review of the Jobs’ speech in Business Week to learn how you can apply the principles of the Jobs’ i-Phone presentation to your presentations