• 12Oct

    lampoon

    The Web has given new power to consumers as well as to marketers. The power of Yelp and online protests have been proven time and again as noisy consumers who complain about bad customer service or faulty products win out over corporations. Yet it still surprises me that name brands continue to abuse their customers in the name of greed and expect customers to just accept it.

    Netflix is the latest example. If you have been following the Netflix story, you know that Netflix first decided to raise its prices as part of the strategy to monetize its online streaming service, then they announced they were going to split their DVD operation and their streaming service in two with the launch of Qwickster. The customer backlash was substantial. Complaints started rolling in and the blogosphere was abuzz with commentary about Netflix’s insensitivity to its customers and its stupidity. It’s not as though they were the only game in town. Hulu Plus has been gaining momentum and there are other video services available.

    Netflix arrogantly was counting on its customer loyalty to see them through.They assumed that the goodwill they had built with their customers gave them the right to abuse that customer loyalty.

    Clearly, Netflix is not Apple. They don’t command the same rabid customer loyalty, but they also don’t offer the same level of customer service or the same level of innovation. Apple has build a trusted relationship with their customers. They have created a unique and consistent customer experience, and they keep their customers well informed about product changes and innovations, usually with a lot of fanfare and support.

    Which brings me to Comcast. In my household we have been having a challenging experience with Comcast Internet access over the past week. Comcast has an anti-virus service they are touting called Constant Guard, a malware security suite from Xfinity. This apparently is a free package offered to Comcast subscribers, but instead of promoting it through conventional opt-in marketing, Comcast is using malware marketing to force customers to adopt it. Comcast apparently monitors virus activity on computers connected to their network, whether you want them to our not and no matter what anti-virus software you use. And when Comcast sees a preset level of malware attacks, they hit you with their own popup that says your computer is infected with a bot. The popup requires you to make several clicks to a customer service center to deactivate it.

    We have four computers in our family, including both Macs and PCs, and they are protected by different anti-virus packages. We have all experienced this malware marketing program from Comcast, and we have all had issues getting rid of their popup. At first, we were naturally suspicious and assumed this was a malware attack, but after a couple of calls to a bewildered support team we finally found a representative at Comcast who admitted, “Yep, it’s ours.” In fact, we received a very empathetic call back from the regional customer service executive, who also seemed baffled and filed a trouble ticket. Ultimately, we received a call from another service rep who basically told us, “Yeah, it’s ours, We have uncovered tens of thousands of attacks on your computer. If you want it all to go away, just download our free software. And by the way, we are perfectly within our rights to do this so get over yourself” (or words to that effect).

    So this is how Comcast is selling its triple-play strategy, although I think it’s more like three strikes and you’re out. Comcast wants to force you to use their anti-virus solution, whether you want it or not. (I also should note that a scan of all the computers turned up no evidence of a problem, so clearly whatever protection we have in place seems to be working.)

    Let’s hope this is not a harbinger of things to come. Consumers should always have a choice as to what services they want to buy and what price they are willing to pay. There are times when even free looks too expensive.

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  • 30Sep

    The challenge with being in a service business is, well, providing the best customer service. And providing the best service often means doing what’s best for your business and not necessarily what the client wants. After all, as a consultant you are the expert in your field, and the client is paying you for your expertise. In essence, they are paying you to disagree with them when necessary, and that is not always pleasant.AliceTeaPartyClose

    During my years working with different PR agencies I have worked with a number of difficult clients. My agency bosses always emphasized to me that the client is always right, even when they are wrong, and there have been many instances when I have been put in an uncomfortable situation because the client asked for six impossible things before breakfast, and the agency bosses were too concerned about losing the account to say “no.” (Note that this is not universally true, and that I have had some wonderful bosses in my day who would never ask me to compromise my professional integrity.) However, one of the advantages of running your own business is you get to say “no” when you want to, and you get to decide what’s impossible, what’s not, and what can be delivered before breakfast.

    The truth is, you run your business, your clients’ don’t. Granted, your clients pay the bills and keeping them happy keeps the lights on, but if you have a client who asks you to do something unethical or illegal, or even unpleasant, then you have to ask yourself how far you are willing to go to keep the customers satisfied.

    I have been following a lot of commentary these past two weeks about Netflix decision to split its streaming and DVD businesses, and the backlash over the latest changes to the Facebook interface. These changes have created a number of pissed off customers, which has generated a lot of negative traffic on the Web. As Eric Brown noted, however, in a recent blog post for Social Media Explorer entitled “Always Listening to the Customer is a Race to Mediocrity”:

    Perhaps we can all do a better job delivering news, however no one knows or sees what that Entrepreneur, CEO, or Business Owner sees. No one has the information he or she has to know why they made the decision they made. And here is another dirty little secret, your customers haven’t a clue about what your the next innovation or product release should be. Even the best evangelist, if they really exist don’t know the next answer, otherwise they would be the Entrepreneur.

    Your customers don’t have your best interests in mind, and they actually don’t really care if you stay in business, no matter how loyal they are. You have to determine your own future, which means you often have to make tough decisions to protect your business. You have to assess whether a client relationship is going to cost you more in the long run than it’s worth to you. And there are different ways to assess costs, whether the client is not respectful of your time which means you can’t service other clients; whether they aren’t respectful of your ethics which could damage your reputation; or they are just too hard to work with which will cost you your sanity.

    If you give your client your best counsel and they choose to reject it, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. But you don’t have to watch a train wreck either just to have the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so”; that won’t help your professional reputation. And you don’t have to be a slave to your clients, or let them abuse your professional relationship by demanding more than you are willing to commit to, or they are willing to actually pay for. It’s still your business, and sometimes you just have to just say “no!”

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