Category Archives: Social Media

There is no such thing as bad press

OR: Misery loves company, especially company that can go onto your Twitter stream.

So assuming you’ve read the Interwebs lately you’ve hard the tale of how an Apple employee lost a next-generation iPhone test unit at a bar where it was found and sold to a gadget blog. Sordid stuff.

Many commenters immediately assumed that the person who lost the phone would be fired, but that has not yet been reported to happen. So perhaps he merely has to spend a few weeks in the penalty box at work.

(Note to the CrankyPM: Yes, your CEO can drop his laptop off his yacht without penalty, but if you lose a hotel receipt there’s hell to pay, right?)

At any rate, of all the things that might come out of such an incident, this is an unlikely one: Lufthansa has offered to fly the person-who-lost-something (I hate to pile on by calling the poor guy a “loser”) to Munich.

You see, he lost the phone at a German-style bar, tenuous connection, etc.

Now, it takes a lot of nerve to offer this poor Apple employee a reward for making one of the biggest mistakes in recent company history (with the exception of MobileMe, zing!) but, the real question is: how much nerve does it take to accept the offer?

And is this a legitimate use of social media marketing or is it, as a Lufthansa employee would succinctly put it, just Schadenfreude?

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Toronto Transit Commission – How not to handle bad PR

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is dealing with a real PR problem right now. There have been a number of photos and videos taken by transit riders and posted on the Internet showing TTC workers sleeping on the job (such as in the photo below) or otherwise doing things that did not provide a positive image of the transit commission.

Newspapers, television and radio news programs have reprinted the images and run articles and news segments on this story.

Many employees of the transit commission aren’t pleased.

Background on the TTC

Here’s a bit of background for those who are not from Toronto. The TTC operates all of the public transit buses, street cars and subways in the city of Toronto and has the 3rd highest daily ridership of any transit system in North America. Only New York and Mexico City (both significantly larger than Toronto in population) have transit systems that carry more passengers. The TTC is an integral part of people’s lives here.

There have been a number of issues in the last few years such as transit worker strikes, fare increases, ticket and token shortages, and service issues that have led to growing negative attitudes towards the TTC and the services it provides. Most people would probably say that the TTC does a good job in general,  but there are certainly many areas for improvement, and the TTC hasn’t appeared to be the most responsive organization.

Now there are 3 parties with stakes in this situation. There is the TTC management, the TTC workers (drivers etc.) and the public.

The public have legitimate gripes with both the workers and the management. Now, it is only fair to state that the recent pictures such as the one above are not the key problem here, and it is clear that only a very small number of workers are behaving this way. But for an already frustrated public, these images — and they are powerful — are what is putting the frustration over the top.

The TTC has made a number of mistakes in handling this situation.

1. They have not come out and openly acknowledged the problems that their customers (the general public) faces regularly

This is the first step that any company should take when dealing with problems such as these. Acknowledging the problems does not mean accepting the blame, but it does begin a communication process about the grievances. It also starts to frame the key discussion points so that constructive dialogue can occur. Otherwise the result is increasing distrust and frustration from the customers who become further entrenched in their views. This can quickly lead to customer attrition.

2. The TTC itself is embroiled in it’s own (rather public) conflict between management and the workers

This is probably one of the biggest problems facing the TTC and it is the customers that are punished through drops in service, striking unions or other issues.  But management keeps their jobs and the unionized workers focus even more on their own grievances.

The net result is that not only do customers suffer, but their needs are basically ignored while the two groups fight it out.

Here’s part of a statement from TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to workers.  This is excerpted from this article in a local Toronto paper.

In a memo sent to all TTC employees on Saturday, Webster says, “I am becoming increasingly tired of defending the reputation of the TTC; tired of explaining what is acceptable and what is not; and tired of stating the obvious: that much of the behaviour being reported is, indeed, unacceptable.”

“Two weeks ago I said that the vast majority of TTC employees care about the organization and do a good job, but we can all do better. I asked everyone to respond well. Some of you did. Clearly, some of you did not.”

He is referring, of course, to the bus driver filmed taking an unscheduled coffee break in the middle of his route about a week ago, not long after a pair of ticket collectors were snapped sleeping in their booths.

The resulting video and photos have incited a maelstrom of discontent among riders already familiar with poor service from front line TTC workers.

“The culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into our organization will end,” Webster warns.

“I hold all of management responsible to make this happen. Reviews and plans are under way to address systemic issues regarding customer service, but real change starts with you.”

Now the response from the union went something like this:

But (Bob) Kinnear (head of the union representing the TTC workers) blamed some of the issues frustrating both the public and TTC workers on transit managers and the commission board, which consists of politicians.

He also blasted chief general manager Gary Webster for his statement over the weekend that appeared to brand all TTC workers as deficient in their work ethic and attitudes.

“The worst thing for a good union is bad management,” Kinnear said. “If you have strong management and a strong union, you meet in the middle.”

Kinnear did ask for calm on all sides and to try to work together to solve the problems, but the finger pointing on all sides, particularly publicly just exacerbates the problem.

3. Some TTC workers started a very poorly thought through social media campaign

In a tit-for-tat move, some TTC workers created a Facebook group, called Toronto Transit Operators against public harassment.

The organizers of the group describe it’s purpose as follows:

This is a group where Operator’s [sic] can give suggestions on how to fight back to the recent photo and video harassment from passengers just looking to make trouble for us. And post photo’s [sic] of your own of passengers breaking the rules.

The “just looking to make trouble for us” line shows a complete inward mindset with no attempt to understand the real issues at hand. Also, the irony of the group name and that last sentence in the description seems to be lost on the group’s creators, although one group member, Mary Bruno Tidona, pointed it out quite plainly. See the image here for more info.

There were many people in the group who clearly supported the transit workers, but there were also a lot of  responses from people pointing fingers at politicians (local, provincial and federal), at the public, at their management, at “the system”, but rarely if ever at themselves. One comment that suggested that the few workers who do sleep on the job etc. get the boot was met with this response.

(click to enlarge)

If you’re going to use social media, at least understand that you’re engaging in a conversation with others and not an excuse making or brow beating exercise. That may work in broadcast media where the few control the message to the masses,  but in a Facebook group, for example, you’re only inviting ridicule.

4. TTC management have responded with old school thinking — repeat the obvious and add more features

On January 27, 2010, the TTC proudly proclaimed their commitment to customer service excellence. Is there anyone who would openly state they are NOT committed to customer service excellence? The web page on their site looks like a well crafted communication piece that announces a lot but doesn’t really indicate that they understand the core problems.

Front and center is the creation of a panel. The description is the following:

This panel will have representation from customers, the private sector, TTC employees and the public transit industry. The panel will review and approve a terms of reference then begin the work of assessing existing plans to improve customer service, advise on where the TTC should seek outside expertise to achieve its objective, conduct public consultations, and draft a customer charter or “bill of rights.” It is intended that the advisory panel will publicly report its recommendations by June 30.

Honestly, this is the best they can do in 2010? Create a panel and report back in 5 months? How about something more inclusive, using social media (effectively!), involving community groups in a series of TransitCamps starting at the end of February? Nope. Just old school thinking.

Beyond the panel, the web page also lists a number of new “features” they will add to the system. These include:

  • a beta of a new trip planning application
  • 50 new ticket vending machines across the system
  • improved plans to help customers and employees during subway delays
  • a new SMS messaging capability at all 800 streetcar stops
  • new video screens and better system status communication with ticket collectors and employees
  • a review of training programs for new employees and those going through re-certification

Now this is a nice list, but it’s simply a list of incremental features being added to the system. How will any of this – with the possible exception of better training — address the core issues of the public?

Incremental changes to the system, like incremental changes to a product, are not game changers. And while it is very difficult to make major changes to something as complex as a transit system in a short period of time, there is certainly a lot more that can be done to make the system more efficient and better address passenger needs.

I grew up in Toronto and used to love the transit system and it was only after I got married that I stopped using it regularly. And the few times I have used it since my marriage, I’ve found it excruciatingly painful and time-consuming.

I think the Toronto Transit Commission needs to understand there are alternatives for people and they will use them when the TTC fails to deliver appropriate value.  I’ve found an alternative to the TTC — same initials though — Take The Car. It does have it’s downsides, but it gets me where I’m going and I always know when it will depart and arrive.

Saeed

Tweet this article:  @onpm – Toronto Transit Commission – How not to handle bad PR – http://bit.ly/9swydU – #ttc #marketing

Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 4)

This is part 4 of the series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

In this part, I’ll take a look at whether the industry can get out of the mess it’s in.

Looking back

Before looking forward, let’s take a look back at some ads from a couple of decades ago.

Click each image to enlarge.

Notice something about these ads? They all look rather similar. Pictures of (similar looking) computers and lots of text! Check out those headlines. “A new way of personal-professional computation”???? What’s that all about? Is it a personal computer or a professional compute? Well it’s both (and neither)! Ouch.

And that’s one fine looking set of muttonchops on Issac Asimov in the Radio Shack ad!

Even Apple was not immune to kind of advertising.  Here’s the original Macintosh print ad. A double-page spread! Click images to enlarge.

Cool. Did you catch the specs on the Mac? 64K ROM, 128K RAM, 32bit MC68000 processor, and even a clock/calendar chip!

Comparing these ads to advertising today, it’s  clear that things have changed for the better in 25 years. Apple certainly leads most other technology companies in their sophistication, but then, they’ve been at it much longer than most other technology companies!

As every industry matures, so does the audience for it’s products. Forty or fifty years ago, a lot of advertising for cars talked about engine horsepower, size (in cubic inches), acceleration, top speed etc. The only metrics that are frequently mentioned today are mileage or fuel consumption (and sometimes number of cup holders!). But that’s because those are important to us.

In personal technology, few consumers, truly care about the processor in their device. Quick, what kind of of CPU does you iPod have? What about a Blackberry? What about an iPhone? The Palm Pre? The Motorola Razr? The MacBook Air?

If you know any or (even worse) all of the CPUs in those device, you’re a serious geek. 🙂

But for the vast, vast majority of people, it doesn’t really matter one bit. Those days are behind us. We have matured and so has the industry. Of course, there are still many companies that talk in “speeds and feeds” or mumbo-jumbo, but in a maturing industry, they pay a price. The segment of the market that listens to the “tech-speak” is shrinking steadily.

Looking forward

If we try and look 25 years into the future, how will things have changed? Technology will have become much more embedded and ubiquitous in our environment.

The days of the big desktop computer will be gone. We will carry, wear and perhaps even embed devices within our bodies.

A second full generation of people will have reached adulthood living in an Web-enabled world. The word “offline” will be an anachronism. Augmented reality will be our reality.

In a world like that, how will people relate to technology? How will companies need to communicate with the market about their products?

The current “craze” known as social-media will be old news, and will just be part of the communication process vendors have with their customers. Consumers, particularly younger ones, will likely give up a lot of what is now considered “personal” information to companies, in exchange for individualized products and services.

In the context of the digital world, “Give me what I want, when I want and how I want” will simply be a common state of affairs.

Remember the phrase “personal computer”? That of course was shortened to PC, which is still used today, but few people think about the “personal” part explicitly anymore. Messaging and advertising will become “personal” in the future as well.

And of course there will be those that do it well, and those that do not.

So getting back to the original question – Can we get out of this mess? – the answer is yes, but it will take time. But for those of us who are at the forefront of this change, let’s see if we can’t make that change happen just a little bit faster and easier and ensure we don’t get emails that promise to help do things like  “Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals while Protecting Core Assets” any more.

Saeed

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UniFlame understands the value of customer experience

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As a former technical writer, it’s always disappointing to see the sad state of virtually any kind of instruction manual or guide. These documents are literally afterthoughts, included I’m sure, simply because laws require assembly instructions or usage manuals.

In fact, too often with goods made in non-English speaking countries, you end with documents like this.

So, when I come across a set of instructions that is clear, unambiguous and easy to understand, it’s worth a positive shout out.

Recently, I bought a rather inexpensive charcoal grill. It looks like this grill to the right.

Nothing fancy. It’s not from a major name brand. But whomever created the assembly instructions knew what they were doing.

First, here is a shot of the COMPLETE assembly instructions

instructions

(click image to enlarge)

What’s great about this?

  • 8 simple panels, shown clearly on a 2 page spread
  • All parts clearly drawn and all assembly pieces identified and labeled with a letter
  • Minimal text to read and (mis)interpret – i.e. no tab A in slot B silliness

Yes, this particular photo shows the French instructions (it came with similar English instructions as well), but to be honest, the words could have been in any language and it wouldn’t have affected the clarity of the diagrams.

Here’s a close up look at one of the panels.

instructions-closeup

(click image to enlarge)

Note the letters associated with each of the 4 items in the diagram (bolt, 2 different washers, and a nut). Why is this important. Well take a look at the next two pictures.

toolspkg-front

(click image to enlarge)

Every item required for assembly is clearly packed and labeled (!!!) for easy access and identification. How easy? Notice that items B, G, K, F (used in the 2nd image above) are actually packaged together in the picture!

They could have just put everything into little plastic bags, tossed them into the box,  and let me figure out what was what, like many manufacturers do. But someone (I don’t know if Uniflame has Product Managers) decided that would not be acceptable. And on top of that, they included the tools I’d needed — screwdriver and small wrench — to put everything together.

But that’s not all. Whomever designed this little package of assembly parts, went one step further. Here’s the back of the package.

toolspkg-back

(click image to enlarge)

Yup. The letters are also printed on the back. So why is this important? Because the back is where someone assembling the barbecue is going to access the parts. Note the serrations in the cardboard.

Someone actually thought through this little detail and decided to print the part letters on the back and serrate it for easy access. And believe me, it saved me a lot of flipping the package over and back to figure out where the parts were that I needed.

Now, this is not a complicated grill to put together. It could be done with poor instructions, but it does say to me that someone at Uniflame actually cares about customer experience.  None of the points listed above are big things, nor are they costly to implement, but in most cases, companies bypass the extra effort altogether, looking at them as expenses and not as value-add.

And because UniFlame chose the latter, I’m telling all of you.  So, if any of you are  looking for a good charcoal grill, go and get this one from your local retailer. It’s about 1/2 the price of the comparable big name brand, and it works really well.

So, hats off to you Uniflame. You’ve impressed one product geek enough that he decided to let a lot of other people know.

Saeed

Upcoming ProductCamps

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ProductCamp New York was last weekend and it appears to have been quite successful. Alan attended and wrote up this post about it.

If you missed the New York session and want another chance to attend one, there are 4 5 more in the works in the coming months, starting with ProductCamp Austin in only a few weeks.

ProductCamp Austin
Date: Saturday August 15, 2009
Location: The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, Austin
More details: click here.

Followed by one in September.

ProductCamp RTP2
Date: Saturday September 26, 2009
Location: Cambria Suites, Raleigh-Durham Airport
More details. click here.

And 2 ProductCamps in October.

ProductCamp Toronto 2009
Date: Sunday October 4, 2009
Location: Ted Rogers School of Business @ Ryerson University
More details: click here.

ProductCamp Seattle
Date: Saturday October 10, 2009
Location: Amdocs, 2211 Elliott Ave, Seattle WA
More details: click here.

And to round the year off, Boston is holding their camp in November.

ProductCamp Boston
Date: November 7, 2009
Location: Microsoft New England R&D Center, Boston MA
More details: click here.

For information on these events as well as other events relevant to the Product Management, Product Marketing and Product Development communities, check out our Events page. And if you know of an event we should list, let us know in the comments of that page.

Saeed

Announcing ProductCamp Toronto 2009

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The time and place for the next ProductCamp Toronto has been set.

It’s Sunday October 4, 2009 @ the Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.

This is the same location as the very successful first Product Camp in November of last year.

It’s a chance to come and meet, brainstorm, learn and network from your peers in a casual and engaging setting.

Here are some links to provide you with more information

We’ll keep you updated as things progress. Look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in October.

Saeed

Embracing New Media

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I’ve written about the CBC radio show “The Age of Persuasion” before. A recent episode entitled “Embracing New Media” is worth listening to.

By looking at how people reacted to and dealt with successive versions of “new” media (like the telephone and television) when they first came out, the host, Terry O’Reilly, teaches us some lessons about how to deal with the current slew of new social media in our lives. Enjoy.

Saeed