Two sides of the customer service coin

I’ve been dealing with two annoying customer service situations over the past week or so and they show opposite ends of the spectrum for dealing with irritated people. First, I ought to say that despite being thought of as a pretty mellow and even keeled person, I have a wicked temper.

The first situation has to do with my MacBook Pro – which is still at Apple being repaired. I was confused as to what part Apple might need to order (the reason my system is STILL not back in my hands) and called to find out what was going on. I was only marginally irritated by the situation when I called. What I learned was that while they were repairing the problem I’d identified, they discovered another and needed a part for that. Fair enough – and I appreciated that they seemed to be looking out for me. I was even more impressed when I got a call the next day – from a live person – giving me an update on my system. I got a call again yesterday with another update. Ire squelched.

The second situation is not nearly so pretty. Last night my wife and I were out. Our local CompUSA is one of the many shutting down and we go in from time-to-time to see what deals are to be had. Last night the TVs were 25 percent off. There was a 32-inch LG LCD for $899. I looked around online and came away with the impression that it was a good TV and a good price. So we bought it. The salesguy said we were in luck because they still had a new one in the box. He and I went into the back to grab it. The box was open, he said, because it had come from another story and they’d wanted to check it. He opened it again to make sure the stand and whatnot were all there.

We carried it to the cashier and then to the car. Wendy and I carried it into the house. We opened the box and unloaded the TV. The screen was smashed. Now because CompUSA is liquidating, all sales are final. [I can feel my heart beating faster as I type this.]

On my other blog, I recently wrote about reading the Aeneid and how great it is. At this point of the evening, I was starting to feel like Mezentius attacking the Trojans in Book Ten, seized by an animal rage – simply wanting to go on a wild, vengeful rampage.

I called CompUSA. We’re closed now they tell me, and only the manager can help you, and he’s out till Friday. They pass me to his voice mail. I attempted to leave a calm message and think I did a pretty good job. Next I called Visa to reverse the payment. They can’t do anything until the charge is posted. Can I at least SPEAK to someone to feel reassured that I’m not going to be left holding the bag on this? No. Can Visa call me when the charge posts so I can resolve it? No.

I thank the customer service person, hang up the phone and throw it. My rage is ready to explode. Not only have I been sold a broken TV that I probably can’t return, I may not even be able to get my money back.

Why can’t Visa at least talk to me? Why can’t they make a call (or send an email) letting me know that a specific charge has posted? Apple seems to have figured out how to conduct customer care in a way that makes the customer at least FEEL cared for, you’d think that Visa could do something a little better than simply saying “No.”

[tags]Apple, CompUSA, Visa, customer service, rage[/tags]

Civil discourse – online and off

This morning, a colleague emailed me Brad Stone’s piece in the New York Times on civility online. I’ve been pushing for the idea of identity online for a while and think that, for the most part, anonymity and pseudonimity detract from our ability to engage in conversation. Whether a formal code of conduct is needed – or if individual bloggers simply need to exercise judgment as they see fit – is up for debate.

Sometimes, we accept the fallacy that all exchanges are somehow constructive or illuminating. That is clearly not the case. When a bias or an agenda is unacknowledged, or no context is provided, it makes it difficult to determine the reasoning or validity of a statement. Anonymity and pseudonimity are major culprits in allowing this to happen.

There are other times when a bias or agenda is obvious – and the identity is known – that raise other issues. The Daily Kos did something a few weeks ago on Fox’s coverage of the October 2003 Democratic Debate in Detroit sponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus. The point is made that many of the questions asked were problematic; but that that point was essentially ignored by the media:

All of the questions asked were not skewed, but this actually makes things worse. Instead of smearing all of the candidates equally, among the major candidates: Lieberman was favored, Kerry and Edwards each received two decent questions, Dean received one decent question, and Clark received no decent questions. Yet the talking heads took no notice of this, instead blaming the candidates, as Fox manipulated our primary.

When did you stop beating your wife? Fox debate questions

If this level of discourse is acceptable in the traditional media, it’s easy to understand why things can get even more out of hand online.

During the MIT Communications Forum event last week on evangelicals and the media, someone asked Gary Schneeberger of Focus on the Family about what they were doing to encourage dissenting opinions and debate. He made a pretty valid point that their channels are their soapbox and that they can use them to communicate as they see fit. One might not agree with the content that they choose to communicate but they are under no obligation to carry content that they find objectionable.

Back to the blog side of the fence though. No one cries foul when comment spam is blocked. Spammers could claim that their free speech rights are being denied. Where do we draw the line? Baiting, name-calling and threats are not a dialog. To argue that they are is to support the very lowest common denominator. To insist that people post under their own identity (or at least contact the blogger whose site they wish to post on anonymously to explain why they want or need to protect their identity) seems reasonable.

For bloggers to be able to choose to remove content that is either personally demeaning, offensive or not germane to the conversation likewise seems appropriate. Bloggers make decisions every day about the content that appears on their sites. If the communities that rely on them begin to feel that poor or inappropriate decisions are being made, they can call them on it – either on the site itself or elsewhere – or they can move on.

Tim O’Reilly, who is quoted throughout the Times article sums the issue up well:

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. “That is one of the mistakes a lot of people make — believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. “Free speech is enhanced by civility.”

It’s silly to think that we have to take an all or nothing approach and not exercise any discretion about what comments appear.

[tags]blogging, identity, censorship, agenda, New York Times, Brad Stone, Tim O’Reilly, code of conduct, Daily Kos, Fox News, Gary Schneeberger, Focus on the Family, anonymity, pseudonymity, spam, comments [/tags]

MIT Communications Forum – April 5 – Evangelicals and the Media

Last night was the third and final MIT Communications Forum for the semester. I’m bummed. The topic was evangelicals and the media and it was pretty interesting. A more formal summary, along with the event Q&A, will be posted on the Communications Forum site. You can find the official summary, photos and other resources at the Communications Forum site.

The moderator was the Reverend Amy McCreath, MIT’s Episcopal chaplain and coordinator of the Technology and Culture Forum. The panel included Diane Winston, who holds the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School at USC; Gary Schneeberger, special assistant for media relations to Focus on the Family founder James Dobson; and Jon Walker, a communications consultant for Rick Warren and Purpose Driven Life http://www.purposedrivenlife.com/ ministries.

Having worked with eHarmony in the past, I was especially interested to hear and meet Schneeberger.

Henry Jenkins of the Comparative Media Department kicked things off by saying how important it was for academic institutions to be in contact with the Christian community in spite of – or perhaps because of – their differing world views.

McCreath began by saying that in looking over the archives of the Technology and Culture Forum, she found that from 1964 (when that forum was founded) until the late 1990s, there were no events that included the word ‘evil’ in the title; since the 90s there have been several. She attributed this change to the growing influence of the evangelical movement through their persistent, well funded and innovative use of the media.

Diane Winston started with a provocative premise: that for the past 250 years, evangelicals have driven the use of most mass media innovation in the country. They have been the early adopters of what was then taken up by everyone else. I’m not sure I buy that 100 percent but she offered three case studies:

In the 1740s, George Whitfield was the first “transatlantic rock star” holding outdoor revivals that would attract as many as 30,000 people. Whitfield was an astute marketer and promoter and used newspapers (all local at the time) to cross geographical boarders and societal boundaries – tying the country together through savvy use of the media. A friend of Benjamin Franklin, they shared an interest in the role of communications as a tool for improving life – even as they disagreed on the value of religion.

In 1813, Sam Mills graduated from the Andover Seminary. As he traveled the more remote parts of the country he was dismayed by the lack of Bibles. In 1815, he helped to form the American Bible Society – a group dedicated to saving souls by printing a Bible for every American. To accomplish this, the ABS turned to technology – steam-driven presses, machine-made paper, etc. – in ways that far outstripped the commercial publishing industry. In 1833, Harper Brothers bought its first steam-powered press. The ABS had 16 in 1829.

In the early 20th century Aimee Semple McPherson traveled the country, preaching in her bible car. In 1923 she settled in LA and created Angelus Temple. With seating for 5,000, Sister Aimee kept it full by attracting a secular audience. Her services were full of popular cultural – music, shows and even motorcycles. McPherson eventually had her own newspapers and magazine, was the first woman to broadcast a sermon and in 1924 became the first woman to own a broadcast license. At the time of her death in 1944, she had purchased land to create a TV station.

These run counter to the popular perception that evangelicals are somehow less sophisticated. It would also be a mistake, according to Winston, to believe that financial gain has been the sole reason for their use of the media (although it has generated great wealth) – spreading God’s word has always been at the root.

Gary Schneeberger introduced himself as self-avowed “rabid right-winger” who had something in common with many liberals – being called a moron by Anne Coulter.

When Focus on the Family founder Jim Dobson started out, he was a child psychologist. He’d written a book, “Dare to Discipline,” (spare the rod, spoil the child kind of stuff). While promoting the book he came to believe that the family was in crisis and that society wasn’t helping. He felt “called of the Lord” to do something and started Focus on the Family.

When conservatives talk about media bias, they are not talking about radio. It is a conservative bastion. Even before the current crop of conservative commentators, Dobson was on the air. His program caught on not by telling Bible stories – but by having real people on the program telling their stories. It has been the emotional connection that has inspired people to want more.

That ‘more’ has taken the form of additional radio programs, books, magazines and television. Now there are Web sites, podcasts and thoughts of on-demand and mobile channels in the future.

Schneeberger wanted to make it clear that the tech is secondary to their mission to provide truth, heart and hope for families. According to him, public policy is only about six percent of Focus on the Family’s activities – yet it gets most of the media attention. He pointed out that Carter was the first president that Dobson worked with; but that his work on the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography during the Reagan administration led to a greater involvement in public policy.

That involvement included expanded communication, the evolution of media outlets and news channels that allow Focus on the Family’s constituents to connect with lawmakers and opinion leaders. The organization’s communications are designed with its audiences in mind – Dobson will talk about a bill in congress and encourage people to express their opinion.

And Focus on the Family provides the tools for people to express their opinions. For example, CitizenLink, a regularly updated Web site and a daily email allows people to contact politicians and policy makers with the click of a mouse. When they do, Schneeberger contends, it isn’t Focus on the Family that is flexing its muscles, it is the constituents. Focus on the Family, though its media and technology, is the “bowflex” that helps them stay in shape.

Jon Walker focused on what churches are doing with media – from local to global to “glocal” – and how that is changing the way they operate and communicate.

His first example was PowerPoint. Hymnals are now a rarity – the words appear in presentations on big screens. All sorts of stagecraft is coming into play and people expect to be entertained. Walker sees this as a positive thing – it is a way to capture interest. “Jesus was an exciting speaker,” he pointed out.

At Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, services include a number of jumbotrons. They noticed that people watched the screens even though Warren was there in person. This led to new uses for video and the creation of “venues” – thematic worship spaces (rock, gospel, Polynesian, etc.) – that can exist separately and simultaneously. The common elements of the service appear on screen (time-shifted if need be) while unique elements occur live.

This idea is allowing churches to brand themselves and attract members based on reputation rather than proximity. Time-shifted content and Web casts are also a growing phenomenon – with small groups meeting to listen to services.

Some of these advances are resulting in the creation of lots of content and have led to media licensing opportunities. In some cases, missionary work is being funded by selling content.

In all cases, the use of media is based on supporting and promoting the great commandment (love thy neighbor as thyself) and the great commissions (to spread the faith to all the world) in order to create purpose driven churches all over the world connected by technology.

Rick Warren’s contribution to this has been the book series, “The Purpose Driven Life,” associated ministerial resources (40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community), a number of DVDs and a Web site. Walker showed several examples of sites and communities that subscribed to the “purpose driven” ideal.

I was struck but what great communicators all three of the panelists were – especially Schneeberger and Walker. Since I don’t hold many of their views, I was prepared (and perhaps hoping) to be put off by them. That wasn’t the case. After the session I had a chance to talk with Schneeberger about some of the issues that had come up between eHarmony and Focus on the Family. He’d not been in the media role at the time but was familiar with them.

This was one of the best thought out panels in terms of its makeup. Winston did a great job at providing historical context, Schneerberger offered an interesting example of a single organization using media to forcefully and successfully promote its ideas and agenda and Walker showed how multiple organizations were using media in different ways to share and connect around a single idea.

Now, aside from MiT5 later this month, things will be in hiatus until the fall . . .

[tags]MIT, Communication Forum, Evangelical, religion, media, Henry Jenkins, Amy McCreath, Diane Winston, Gary Schneeberger, Focus on the Family, James Dobson, Jon Walker, Rick Warren, George Whitfield, Sam Mills, Aimee Semple McPherson, Saddleback [/tags]

Part on Order?

I’m a little confused today. I sent my MacBook Pro in for repair yesterday and I just got an email saying that the repair is on hold because a part is on order. Hello, I sent it to Apple – what parts do they need to order? I don’t get it – you’d think that Apple would have most of the parts they need on hand but I guess not. Color me disappointed because I was expecting the usual ultrafast turn around time. Instead I’m going to have to wait. This sucks.

[tags]Apple, Macintosh, MacBook Pro, repair, parts[/hold]

Wrong question well asked

I’m going to put on my official PR hat for a few minutes here to talk about a story that got some attention last week. I need to be official because I probably wouldn’t have given this story much thought were it not for one of my clients – groupSPARK. What I’m going to say here isn’t a rehash or summary of bunch of meetings. It’s something that stuck me as I read the articles in question and that I think makes sense. The other thing I wondered was why no one else had the same reaction that I did.

Hat on.

Way back on March 23, Mary Jo Foley wrote about an upcoming Yankee Group report that said the real threat to Microsoft Exchange isn’t IBM but open source alternatives. What Yankee was saying isn’t that surprising – but does it really matter?

Here’s what she had to say:

Yankee will publish in April its “2007 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Survey.” The survey of nearly 1,000 IT managers and C-level executives includes some “ominous” news for Microsoft, according to a copy of the executive summary of the study that I had a chance to see this week.

“In an ominous portent for Microsoft, 23% of the survey respondents indicated they intend to migrate away from Exchange Server and switch to an alternative Linux or open source Email and messaging distribution platform over the next 12 to 18 months. The users attributed their decision to their belief that Linux Email and messaging packages are cheaper and easier to manage than Exchange,” according to study author and Yankee analyst Laura DiDio.

Certainly this may well be true on the cost aspect of the equation – especially for smaller businesses that have been priced out of Exchange all together. But why easier to manage? The fact is that you are still looking at having a server (or servers) that you need to deal with. The open source alternatives might be less expensive and different but does that make them necessarily the right choice?

As I mentioned, I probably wouldn’t have been thinking about this at all except that groupSPARK does Exchange hosting. Maybe I’ve been drinking the Kool-aid but why have an email server – either Exchange or open source – on site at all?

In cases like this, I try to think of analogous situations to see if I can find one that makes sense to me; and here’s what I came up with: How many businesses maintain their own physical delivery systems? Not many. People came to realize that it made more sense to outsource to the USPS, FedEx or UPS than to maintain the own fleets of trucks and teams of drivers.

Was the first step to buy more fuel efficient vehicles? To choose between gas and diesel? No, it was to look at removing the entire function from the equation and making it a service rather than an integral part of the business. Open source may provide a more economical truck, but that still doesn’t mean it make a whole lot of sense if you need a team of mechanics, garages to keep the trucks, insurance on them, etc.

Did this idea crop up in any of the other coverage/blogs/comments on this story? Not that I could find. Here are a couple of other examples of what was being said:

Outside of Yankee Group’s analysis, one thing is clear: open-source e-mail solutions comparable to Exchange exist and are becoming more prevalent. Scalix, for one, has a very nice webmail interface and administration console, plus it offers native MAPI support for Outlook. Zimbra is another viable open-source solution that touts voice-over-IP integration, synchronization with mobile devices, and compatibility with a mix of e-mail clients. Nonetheless, Exchange 2007 still offers a plethora of features and integration options that will certainly attract new customers. Still, when it comes to making business decisions cost is key, and open source has the “free market” cornered.

ars technica

Though cost and manageability are the perceived benefits of open source e-mail packages, they may be trade-offs for functionality. For example, the newly released Exchange 2007 includes support for integrated voice mail and e-mail in-boxes, access to e-mail over the phone with voice prompts, and extensive security and access controls.

InformationWeek

The fact that no one raised the question that I had – either in the stories or the comments – made me wonder about the echo/bandwagon phenomenon in social media. The most prevalent comments I saw were ones talking about the drawbacks or Exchange and the wonders of open source.

When I read stories like this it makes me think that sometimes technology can get in its own way. I love technology and use it all the time; but from time-to-time I find myself sitting there with some device or piece of software saying “screw it” and taking an old non-digital approach. There are accepted terms for the discussion and so that’s what’s discussed – whether it makes sense or not.

Hat off.

I should see if there’s a market for cargo vans.

[tags]Microsoft, Exchange, GroupSpark, Open Source, Zimbra, Scalix, Yankee Group, Mary Jo Foley, ZDNet, Informationweek, ars technica[/tags]

SMC Boston

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d volunteer to be the programming director for the Social Media Club/Boston. Last night there was a planning meeting to discuss ideas and activities for the rest of 2007 and now I’m even more excited to be involved. Next week’s program on Ethics and the Social Media Generation Gap – which will be looking at the Adult Swim campaign here in Boston among other things – should be good.

There are also programs planned on Second Life, the business case for social media and one on identity, trust and reputation. The latest details for the various upcoming events are on the Club’s wiki.

The group that met was Todd Van Hoosear from Topaz, Sriya Kodial from Text100, Amanda Watlington from Searching for Profit, Liz Koch from BusinessWire and me from Weber Shandwick.

We met at Kinsale which is always a good choice. I had three beers – a Scotch Ale, a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA and a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar. The Rogue was my fave. It was really great.

[tags]smcboston, Social Media Club, Boston, Social Media, Todd Van Hoosear, Sriya Kodial, Amanda Watlington, Liz Koch, Kinsale, beer[/tags]

Lacking my Mac

What really sucks about having to send my system in for repair is how disruptive it is in little ways. I have an old iBook so I am not without a personal system; and I just moved all of my content to a little 60Gb Western Digital hard drive so I still have that as well.

Here’s what I don’t have:

My usual screen. The iBook is just a 12″ and the screen fills fast.

My bookmarks. Even though I use del.icio.us, it’s still a pain not to navigate my favorites the way I usually do.

One button mouse. I’ve grown used to the two-finger capability of my MBP and don’t like having to use key combos.

My flava. I don’t know, nothing is really THAT different but nothing really feels quite the same. I used this system happily for ages but it isn’t what I’ve gotten used to; and getting used to it distracts me from what I am trying to do.

Hopefully my system will be back in my hands on Friday but until it is, I am going to be a whiny baby.

[tags]MacBook Pro, iBook, Apple, change[/tags]