My new poster child for exceptional customer service – Koopman Lumber Hardware store

I have been living in the small town of Grafton, MA for the last 6 years. Being a home owner, I have had the need to visit the hardware store almost every week to buy stuff to fix/install things around the house. Until recently, these trips have always been to the big box hardware retail stores such as Lowe’s and occasionally to Home Depot. Ironically, I used to drive by my local hardware store Koopman Lumber but never used to stop there dismissing it as a small store compared to Lowe’s. Lowe’s being bigger was considered to be the store of choices and also perceived as the one to be where the best price is likely to be. I will admit I am very price conscious (hey, it is in the Indian blood!). Customer service at Lowe’s is average, nothing to write about. You did get some folks who seemed to be knowledgeable and willing to help you out, but then often you had to go looking for them. Staff at a typical Lowe’s store is minimal for the size of the store.

Then, recently someone walked into my storm screen door leading to the deck. I could not find a replacement door even after numerous trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. These retailers only sell you new stuff, they don’t care about getting stuff repaired for you. So as a last resort, I walked into my local, long forgotten Koopman Lumber. Never did I realize that I was about to discover an exceptional company that should be considered an epitome of superior customer service. They repaired my storm screen door. But the exceptional customer service they delivered has resulted in my now making Koopman my destination for all my home repair needs. The customer service is very personal. You can never roam around the store looking for someone because it is well staffed and all the staff are on a walkie talkie with each other so that they can quickly get you the expert that can help you the best. Returns are super easy to make even if you do not have a receipt.

Prices may not be the cheapest, but now I don’t care. Convenience is great because it is a lot closer, and I trust the advice they give me – because in one case they talked me out of an expensive solution for what they considered the right solution for my needs.

What does this teach me as a software product manager?

  1. You do not always have to be big to win. Instead, what you need to do is treat every customer who walks in through your door right so that they will keep coming back. How many businesses realize this – most of them don’t.
  2. If you are local, the only way you can fight the big boys (and the online stores) is via customer relationships and service.
  3. If you are a small town business, you can choose to ignore your local customers at your own peril. Big town customers are not going to come to small town businesses unless you have something unique to offer. But you can surely drive your local customers to big town businesses if you don’t take care of them.

Thoughts? Any other stories about your local businesses that you have come to love?

Contact Us but facilitate it ….

All companies on their website have an About Us or Contact Us section. However, not all companies provide their phone contact information phoneon their website and instead ask you to fill out a web form or email them if you want to contact them.

This unfortunately sends wrong messages. The message could be construed as any of the following:

  1. Sorry, we are too busy that we don’t want you to bother us by calling us.
  2. We don’t value direct communication between humans, we want you to write to us even though you may be a prospect with a willingness to buy.
  3. You are too many and we don’t have the bandwidth to answer your questions, most of which we could deem to be stupid anyways – so we only want to talk to the serious folks who take the time to write to us though we will not commit if we will ever get back to them either.

In a world where people value authenticity and human touch, you are essentially creating hurdles for people so that they do not communicate with you. In one of my previous posts, I had written about email and 7% – how you lose 93% of your communication power when you use email as the communication channel.

With a web form or email, there is no feedback as to when one will get a reply as opposed to getting to talk to a human being – customers/prospects usually have a question that they want answers for now, not later. Would these companies say this to a prospect in a face-to-face meeting? But unfortunately these companies are sending the wrong message to the millions that are on the internet that they will never have a chance to have a face-to-face conversation with.

I understand the scalability issue, but that is not a prospect’s or a customer’s problem – that is the company’s problem. Airlines list their contact phone numbers, banks do, telephone companies do. But some of these companies have the long phone trees which we all have come to hate so much that websites such as gethuman.com have cropped up. But all of this is better than not providing a contact number for your customers/prospects to reach you. Hiding your phone contact information behind a web form or email is outright insulting to your site visitors.

Now this is applicable not just at the organization level. It is very applicable to us as product managers. Whenever, I talk to my prospects/customers or meet with them, I hand out my business card, my direct number, my email address – if they call me, I want to talk to them. There is nothing more important that I am doing that is more important than talking to customers. I am not saying that I do customer support for them, but I want to hear their concerns, questions etc. and make sure that I get the right person to help them. In 99% of the cases, the caller is happy that I am going to transfer the call to the person best to help them. I thank them for having called me.

Be authentic, be human and more importantly be reachable. If we as consumers get offended by the lack of contact information, I will guarantee you that our customers are as well. There is a lot of downside and no upside for hiding your phone number. After all, our jobs exist only to serve our customers.

Thoughts?

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Image: Courtesy of geekologie.com

Two words that will make you and your business better

THANK YOU!

We all are busy, we have all those emails to read, all those meetings to attend, all those conference calls we have to be on. We don’t have time. But, keep in mind that we have the thankyousame 24 hours that Albert Einstein had, Madam Curie had, Mahatma Gandhi had, Martin Luther King had, Richard Branson has. It is what we do with it that makes the difference.

But when we are on this treadmill that we cannot seem to get off, I think it will benefit us and others to take the time to say those two little words that will make you and your business better than what it is today – THANK YOU. Whether this is to

  1. Your wife who took the time to pick up the kids in the evening because your meeting ran over or
  2. Your kid who wished you good luck when you were going out for an important business meeting or
  3. Your family member who called to wish you good luck during your job interview day or
  4. Your colleague who picked up lunch for you or
  5. Your office manager who ordered all the office supplies you needed or
  6. The candidate who took his/her precious time to interview for a job in your company and did not get selected or
  7. The prospect/friend/customer who send you one of their ideas – independent of how good their idea is or
  8. The stranger at the mall who held the door open for you so that you could roll the stroller in

and the list could go on.

Saying Thank you does not cost you anything but if said correctly makes someone’s lives happier and makes you a PERSONAL human being (not just a professional one).  What do I mean by correctly? Don’t say it when you are rushing through to your next meeting, when you are rushing through the door. Slow down, STOP, look at the person and say Thank you with a smile. If you are not face to face (especially in the case of 6 and 7), call them on the phone – take the time to do it because they took the precious time to interview with you or write to you. Don’t use email unless you have 10’s and 100’s of Thank you’s to say. Yes, this takes time but who said building a good personal or business relationship is easy ? Is it something you can live without? In the interconnected world we live in, you never know who knows whom, who needs whom and when. No one has regretted on his death bed that he thanked people one too many times.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave comments.

Now, go say Thank You to those who are helping you to have a great day. No one will be offended. They may not remember every instance when you said it, but those instances when you did not, will be etched in their memory.

Image: Courtesy of VirtualHug.Wordpress.com

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Permission Marketing gone astray – InfusionSoft

Couple of weeks back, I came across this company called InfusionSoft. I signed up to download something that looked interesting to me called “9 proven techniques to double sales”. To do this, I had to fill out the following form.

When you do this, they send you a link via an email to download the white paper. I was fine with it until this point.

Then the trouble started – there is nothing in the above dialog that gives them permission to send me anything other than the above white paper. Now I get daily emails from their CEO Clate Mask. Here are some of the titles of the emails and some of the content in the email.

Email 1: How one incredible number skyrockets your income

…… Just imagine being able to double your sales (even when businesses all around you are falling further and further into debt.) Think how great you’ll feel when customers are begging you to serve them AND you can stop wondering if you’ll be in business next month. ……

Email 2: 7 Magnetic Marketing Secrets To Explode Your Profits

……when you’re in harvesting mode, you’re working smart and scooping up sales left and right. You can spend your time at closings, on the phone with hot leads or out on the golf course because you know your prospects will call YOU when they’re ready to move forward. ….

Email 3: Double your sales with one powerful secret

and on and on it goes.

What? Customers coming begging to me to serve them? Go and play golf because prospects will call you? Am I living on the wrong planet or what?

Do you think I will ever buy anything from InfusionSoft? No, but I sure am writing about them so that I can save others from this experience.

The emails also say this – which I thought was even more hilarious

We value your privacy, we really hate spammers, and we’re not going to sell your info to spammers (or to anyone else). If you really want to read the boring details of the privacy policy, you can read them here.

We Product marketers should take note – Just because we allowed a customer/prospect to download something free from our website, it does NOT give us permission to send them stuff. If we want to engage with them, we need to do it using Permission Marketing, a term coined by Seth Godin. Ask for their permission and then send them useful stuff that will help them get better at what they do. We need to build a trusted relationship with them such that they will hopefully buy something from us in the future. It is not a guarantee, but if we help someone, they are bound to at least invite us to the “purchase” party if we indeed have what they want.

Permission marketing is NOT getting permission from the customer to spam them – this will absolutely kill any chance of getting any future business.

Yes, InfusionSoft does give me a way to unsubscribe from these emails, but it is work I have to do.

Clate, you will not be getting the phone call from me begging you to serve me while you are having a good time playing golf.

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Product Review – Service Magic rocks

Last week, I had to get a tree cut in the yard and then my garage door broke down with the door bent and the rollers popped out. Not knowing who to call, I checked out ServiceMagic. What an awesome experience that turned out to.

Within minutes, they send me names of three pros rated very high by their customers. I called the pro, got a quote, scheduled the job and got both of these issues taken care of in a hurry. Their customer service is outstanding – they called me to find out how the project was going, they send me thank you notes via email after I had rated the pros – they did not have to do any of this.

This is one of the rare occasions in the recent past where I could say that I have received just an excellent service. We hear all the time about service is being shortchanged by companies due to the current tough economic times, but here is a company that has figured out how to use technology to the hilt to provide such a great service – their website is awesome with easy navigation, customer ratings and reviews of their pros, the results of their 10 point screening etc. They use email communication very well and as a result take many of the pain points involved in finding/hiring a contractor off their customer’s chests. Think about the effort it takes to make sure that the contractors you want to hire have the necessary license, insurance etc. to do the work? All this is done by ServiceMagic for you. Dealing with contractors has never been easy and they seem to have made this easy.

ServiceMagic sets the benchmark against which other service companies should be considered. If you have not used them, I would strongly recommend that you give them a try.

Their success is because they have thought through the entire user experience from the usability of their website through every touch point with the customer either via email or phone. Plus, their service is absolutely free for consumers, they make their money from the pros who get referrals.

Thank you ServiceMagic.

Small decisions can impact product success …..

Last weekend, I volunteered to spend an hour at our local grocery store handing out flyers to shoppers on an upcoming Town hall vote on Grafton school feasibility study. We had a simple decision to make – do we hand out the flyer when shoppers are coming into the store or when they are exiting the store after they are done shopping. We chose to do the latter – for a very simple reason.

When shoppers walk in, they are thinking about one thing and one thing only – SHOPPING – what do I need to buy? where do I need to start? I should not forget to pick up the gallon of milk etc. – anything that breaks their train of thought is an interruption and an unwanted intrusion. If you now give them the flyer, here is a very likely scenario:

  1. They are unlikely to read it
  2. They will put it in the empty cart and the groceries they buy, end up on top of the flyer
  3. When they check out, they will leave the flyer in the cart
  4. They will load the groceries into the car and the flyer ends up left behind the cart.

When shoppers are exiting their store – they are happy that they finished shopping and are headed out. They are more likely to be receptive to your pitch when you hand them the flyer. Here is a very likely scenario:

  1. They are likely to put the flyer into one of their grocery bags or carry it with them in their hand.
  2. The flyer makes it to their car and their home
  3. It has more chances of being read

Now you can see why the simple decision to hand it out at exit works in our favor.

I can think of many such scenarios when I use different products:

  1. When I visit a website that offers a free service, I get interrupted by ads that I have to get past before I am allowed to complete the task. Just because you offer something for free, it does not make it acceptable to force an ad on the user – allow them to have a positive experience and then once they are done, thank them and have the ad appear. They are more likely to look at the ad now that they have had a sense of accomplishment of having completed their task – they are more relaxed. You helped them and they are more likely to help you.
  2. Asking users to register before they can read marketing white paper that brought them to your website. Let them read enough of an outline so that they know if it worth their time and then if they want to read more about it, ask them to either login or register – and tell them why your are asking for the information – so that you can improve their user experience, provide them more of such material etc. – whatever will benefit them. They are likely to give this information to you, now that you have helped them. Or give them the first one free without needing to register and ask them to register when they try to access the second white paper or on their repeat visit.

These may sound obvious when we are the consumers of products or services, but when on the other side designing these products or services, we may get too hung up on our business agenda as opposed to the needs of the users of your product. Try walking in their shoes and see if it makes a whole lot of sense. Go with your gut feel, you will usually be right and if not talk to some real people (people outside your company and get a second opinion.

Your perspectives and comments welcome !!

First experience on a US long distance train

I have been living in the US for the last 18 years and I have never traveled on a train over a long distance. This week, I had to travel to New York and decided to take the Acela Express. What a remarkable experience – I don’t think I will ever fly to New York from Boston.

So what constituted to a great product experience:

1) No security lines

2) Cheap parking – $10 a day compared to $22 a day at Logan plus tolls

3) Parking right outside the station – 2 minute walk compared to Logan’s long walks to terminals plus traffic hassles

4) Awesome, wide comfortable reclining seats

5) On time arrival and departure

6) Cheap taxi ride to the hotel (as opposed to expensive ride from La Guardia) – though we were ripped off by a capitalistic van driver.

7) Quiet car where you are refrained from talking and using the cell phone – I tried the next car and was in midst of so many sales guys chattering over the phone – I quickly made my way to the quiet car and had such a great ride.

Total travel time on the train – 3 hours, 25 minutes compares to probably the same on the flight given how early I need to get to the airport, battle security lines, delays etc.

Plus, above all of this, I contributed to reducing the carbon footprint – hey, I drive a hybrid too.

Truly, a great product experience.

Love the customers who hate you

I have been a big proponent of online communities and social media – I have written at least two blog posts on this. So when the latest Business Week arrived with the main section titled “Consumer vigilantes” I could not put it down. The most interesting article among many dealing with social media was titled Love the customers who hate you. This is a must read. The net net of the article is captured in “…… Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. These angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice—and they’ll give it to you.” – Enjoy reading.

Passion vs. decibels – How to manage vociferous customers

In my product management career, I have always had some users who were more vociferous than most of the others. Their decibel level when they asked for new enhancements or yelled at you for the bugs in the software was orders of magnitude higher than majority of the users. The vast majority of these users were loud because they cared, they were passionate about your product. Hence, don’t discount these users – listen to them, allow them to vent and take action to fix their problems if appropriate.

However, you as a product manager need to do a fine balancing act you – some of the feature requests from these vociferous users could be for functionality that applies just to them, because of what they use your product for or the unique way in which they do a common task. You have to listen to them, but also be willing to say No with a justifiable reason. All of us ask for more, but not everyone expects to get everything they ask for (if you don’t ask, you don’t get – so there is not much downside to asking). As long as you tell them why you would not do something, they will understand – getting back to them tells them you care.

I remember an instance where I was reading through the enhancement requests we had received when I came across a tirade from a user. It was an email bomb filled with expletives how our product sucked and how he thought we were all a bunch of idiots. I picked up the phone and called the user. I introduced myself and told him that I was calling him about the enhancement request he had send in. First thing he said was a sincere apology for having writing such a tirade (I don’t know if he thought I was going to sue him) and said he was having a bad day and the software was not working the way he wanted to get his job done. I asked him not to be apologetic and asked him to help me understand the deficiency in the software. We spend a good 20 minutes on the phone understanding the issue.

Guess what likely happened after the call – I created a passionate user for our product because I took time to read what he had written (however unpleasant),  call him and discuss the issue to see how we could improve our product so that he can be successful with what he does. Do you think he would have shared this experience with his colleagues or other users in his community? I absolutely think he would have. What happens if he encounters someone else who has a similar gripe – he is going to tell them we care and to talk to us. I created another big proponent who is going to spread the word about our product and about us as a company.

Creating passionate users and listening to them is one of the most important parts of your job as a product manager. After all, the answer is not in the building – it is very important for all of us to get out of our busy schedule of internal meetings and take the time to talk to real users.  After all, they are the ones who buy our product.

Help your customers buy …

I bought a new car last week. I was very clear what I needed – a Toyota Camry Hybrid and knew the exact options I needed. I did all my research on the web in reading user generated reviews, dealer invoice prices and so on. After spending about 3 hours doing all this, I was ready to buy. I wanted the car in a day because my previous car was giving me trouble.

I started making phone calls to Toyota dealers. I told them right upfront:

1) Here is the exact car I need – color, options etc.

2) I don’t have time to haggle

3) I am shopping around calling dealers

4) I am looking to buy tomorrow.

The sales person at the three dealers I called listened and they told me their best price and they had the car – they asked me if I would like to come in to test drive the car – no pressure, here is what you need, here is what we want – none of the traditional pressure tactics that auto dealers are well known for.

I ended up buying the car from Bernardi Toyota because they not only had the lowest  price but they also worked with me respecting my intelligence to come up with a win-win situation regarding my trade in. So what two lessons did I learn as a product manager from this personal experience?

1) Get real users to write reviews about your product. This is much more reliable than what you as a vendor can put out there. I went to the Toyota website only to look at the specs, colors, options etc. I did all my research on sites such as edmunds.com. Organizations always worry about user reviews because they fear bad things will be said about their products and that the competition will get hold off these reviews. Think about it, by promoting candid feedback from your user base, you are actually raising the bar for your competition. Everyone has skeletons in their closets – you are forcing the competition’s hand to do the same. My advice – forget about the competition – be more concerned about what your customers have to say – if they have bad things to say, you should be the first one to know because you are in a position to fix the problem. No matter what you put out, you cannot satisfy everyone – there will be someone who will say something bad about your product. If all you get are bad reviews about your product and you choose to ignore it, you are only buying time before the inevitable happens.

2) Teach your sales people to listen to the customer’s needs and to respect the customer as an intelligent human being. Help the customers buy what they want rather than trying to sell to them. We all love to buy and don’t want to be sold to.

Based on this very positive experience, I recommended Bernardi Toyota to my friend who was also looking to buy a new car and he is buying from them today. “Word of mouth” pays.

Customer Service Experience

How often have you called customer service at credit card companies, airlines, medical benefits and you have been asked to enter information such as your credit card number, your zip code, your social security number, your frequent flyer number etc. and then finally when you get to a live person, the first question is what is your XXXX – the same information that you had entered using the keypad …. Huh!!

Do these folks ever try out their own systems to check out the customer experience? Or is just a tactic to balance the call volume – benefit for them and none for the customer.

BTW, if you want to spare yourselves of this torture, check out gethuman.com

Apple customer service complaints!!

My previous post was about the horrible customer experience at the Apple store. I find out that I am not alone – there are more and more stories on the internet how their customer service is bad. Here is a recent post on San Jose Mercury News – very much along the lines of my experience.

Apple’s So-Called Geniuses Can Do Better: In order to fix my daughter’s iPod, a staffer at an Apple store wanted me to request an appointment with one of their ‘geniuses’ — their word, not mine – San Jose Mercury News 10/15/07

Apple is all about sales – customer service sucks

Yesterday, my Mighty Mouse, only 10 months old and the one I purchased with my iMac, stopped working – all I could do was scroll down and not scroll up. I decided to take it to the nearest Apple store in Natick – about 25 miles away. I also had a $600+ gift card from Apple and I intended to spend it. I am a great fan of Apple products (see my previous post where I have raved about Apple products). I walked in like a kid in a candy store confident that I will get a new mouse and then get some more of new toys with my gift card.

I talk to one of the reps at the store only to be asked if I have an appointment to replace my mouse. Excuse me, now I wondered if I have hearing problems. Yes, he was serious – he said I needed an appointment to talk to someone about getting a new mouse. He refers me to the manager who says the same thing – I needed an appointment with the Genius Bar and if I want, I could wait around 2 hours to see if they could squeeze me in – hallo, first of all, I don’t need a Genius to replace my mouse and two, I was not looking for a doctor’s appointment. I could see that there were at least 10 sales reps in the store, some selling new stuff, others just standing around waiting for customers to whom they could sell stuff. Now here I am, a very loyal customer being told to leave, drive back 50 miles, set up an appointment and then drive back another 50 miles the next day all for replacing a mouse.

None of this reasoning would go anywhere with the store Manager. He told me that they had a system in place and we had to follow the system (hallo, I am the customer) and it was put in place to be respectful of other customers – never mind, this customer being insulted. Only when I told him that I was intending to spend $700 in the store did something dawn on the manager. Not immediately, but after about 10 minutes when he saw me looking at the new iPod. He knew that I was serious about spending the money. He came by after 10 minutes and he said he will do me a favor (sure I am the customer and you are doing me a favor) and exchange the mouse. So why all the hoopla, if you could do this – it took him a mere 5 minutes. Amazing !!

Apple got away lucky – I had an Apple gift card and hence I was a captive customer. I could not exchange the card for money to spend it elsewhere – who knows even if I could do, I am sure that would need another Genius Bar appointment. I ended up spending all the money getting my new iPod, iPod shuffle and the Bose sound dock.

While I am happy with my new toys, I can tell you that I am still shocked at the horrible experience. Does this mean that as long as you churn out great products and the world is beating a path to your door, you can get away with horrible customer service? Maybe Apple will – but I don’t think this is a model anyone else would want to follow. After all, history is loaded with examples where companies once market darlings found themselves out of reckoning (Just ask Dell), when they forgot what got them there – the customer !! If my experience is what loyal customers get from Apple, maybe Apple deserves no better. Apple, you have got arrogant.

Wonderful customer experience – Fallon Clinic

My previous post was about how product managers should think more about customer experiences. I had mentioned about how I have had the most memorable product experiences when I bought my iPod and my iMac. Here is another one that is service related that has truly been enjoyable. For the last one year, we have been seeing doctors who are associated with Fallon Clinic. I am truly impressed by their service because of the attention they have paid to details. Everytime, I show up for my appointment, they print a page of labels with all the pertinent information – my name, my phone number, my address etc. on these labels. The doctor then uses the labels on all the forms, prescriptions that he writes. Not a big deal you think until you show up at the pharmacy or at the labs. I no longer have to repeat all this information over and over. I use the pharmacy drive thru, hand off the prescription and off I go – nothing else said – the label has all the information the pharmacy needs.

This is a classic example of walking thru the entire customer experience and then designing a solution. Fallon Clinic did not have to do this, they could have easily dropped this feature and put the onus on me – after all by showing up for the appointment, the clinic get its money. Instead, they chose to make my life easier – net result they have won a long term customer who is now spreading the word.

Who is a customer?

I was visiting the Nilgiri’s coffee shop on Brigade Road, here in Bangalore when I came across the following quote of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation. I thought this was one of the best definitions of a customer that I have read:

A customer is not an outsider to our business. He is a definite part of it. A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. A customer is doing us a favor by letting us serve him. We are not doing him any favor. A customer is not a cold statistic; he is a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own. A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. He deserves courteous and attentive treatment. A customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. A customer brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them properly and profitably – both to him and us. A customer makes it possible to pay our salary, whether we are a driver, plant or an office employee. – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Keep your customers informed !!

Many a times you may have to let your customers know about some bad news – implementation taking longer than expected, your inability to deliver on a committed feature on time, a bad bug in the just released software patch. In all these cases, be upfront with the customers on the real truth rather than some massaged varnished message. Honesty with customer pays and lets you keep their trust !! But don’t wait till the eleventh hour to break the news. When you get an inkling of trouble ahead, let them know and keep them updated from time to time. Explain to them what caused the problem and what steps you are taking to prevent this from happening again.

There is something all of us can learn from some of the airline pilots in this regard. I have always been tolerant of flight delays when they keep me informed of these delays caused by mechanical failures, weather delays, air traffic congestions. My worst flights have been those where they have kept me in the dark without any information. There is an interesting blog entry from a SouthWest Airlines pilot that explains how he keeps the customers informed. Definitely one worth reading.

2.0 Mania?

By the way this is Gopal Shenoy 2.0 writing this blog? I felt that if I don’t have a 2.0 next to my name, I am going to be considered old. There is a 2.0 behind everything these days – Web 2.0, Marketing 2.0, Where 2.0, Business 2.0, PR 2.0, XYZ 2.0, you name it. Brings back memories of late 90’s. Was’nt this when we experienced a similar craze of .com and we all know how that one went.

I am a big proponent of Web 2.0 principles, but this 2.0 behind everything is driving me crazy. 2.0 by itself anything is not going to get us anywhere. 2.0 behind inefficient processes is not going to be a magic wand. But it sure feels that way – “2.0” has surely become a buzzword now. Customers have not changed their needs overnight from the 1.0 days to the present 2.0 day. Yes, they have new needs, but there are certain things that have not changed.

1) Customers are still looking for products that solve their needs the right way.

2) Businesses have to be profitable to have long term success. (Ok, youtube did not make one cent before they got bought out by Google for a zillion dollars, same thing with flickr. I could list similar acquisitions during the .com craze too and hence I am not going to use these successes as the new way of doing business)

3) Customers are still looking for companies that will treat them with respect, listen to their new needs and solve them.

4) Businesses need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

None of these fundamentals of doing business have changed. “2.0” to me is a new way of doing business, new way of reaching out to customers, new way of empowering customers (wikis, blogs, forums etc.) and a new way of listening to the authentic opinions of customers. Doing all this requires a fundamental cultural shift in companies. Unless this shift happens, no “2.0” or “100.0” methodology is going to make one bit of a difference. In fact, failing to make this cultural shift will leave companies behind.

One of the larger shifts “2.0” has brought to the table is that consumers are now in control of what word gets spread about a product. Vendors can no longer control what gets said about their products. Consumers are now looking for authentic user opinions on products, avoiding vendor websites where rosy pictures of products are presented. Unless companies are willing to embrace this feedback, listen to it and take immediate action to fix the issues, they will fail. This is a lot more of a cultural and less of a technology shift and hence is a lot harder for some companies to digest and change.

As a consumer, I love it. As a marketer, I need to be ready to make the shift myself. Embracing 2.0 without a game plan to quickly fix what annoys consumers will not work. “2.0” has given consumers the biggest megaphone they could ever hope for and companies better embrace and act quickly or be fearful of being left behind. Products need to work as advertised, your service needs to be courteous, timely, otherwise the whole world will soon know.

“2.0” principles are solid, but I sure hope this mania will not end the same way as the .com mania.

Herb Chambers Honda Complaints- Worst ever customer experience

I was under the belief that car dealerships had got their act together these days because of the internet. I was under the belief that the days where they could play hard ball tactics with customers and get away with horrible customer service were gone. The underlying reason why I believed in this was because of what I thought of the strong influence that customer reviews on the web have on people’s purchasing decisions.

This past weekend, I had a rude awakening that told me that car dealers are still the same. They still have horrible customer service and think customers who walk in through their doors are people who can be easily taken for a ride. The past weekend I had to get my Odyssey repaired for some electrical problem. I got a call at 4pm saying that the car was ready to pick up. The guy told me he will call me back in a minute with the exact cost of repair. He never called back and when I show up at the dealership an hour later, the paper work is not done, he tells me that the car is being vaccumed while it is sitting in the lot. After I asked that I get to speak to the service manager, things got rolling. There were other customers waiting there with complaints similar to mine.

After all this, I find that there is a long scratch on the sliding doors that was not there when I took it in. Now I have to go back there to get this buffed. Imagine how pissed off and frustrated I feel.

When I got home, I did a check on the Internet to see if there were any reviews on this dealership. Sure enough, there was and every one of the reviews rates this dealership as one of the worst Honda dealerships.

I guess the car dealerships still have not learnt about the word of mouth marketing on the web or is it because the customer reviews are still not mainstream as much as I think they are or is it because every one of them is the same that consumers have no choice but to put up with such shoddy service?