Are you “waking up dead people” or “killing a culture?”

One of the great byproducts of Web 2.0 is that I often hear from friends and colleagues I have lost touch with.  I am sure you too receive the “I found you on the internet, Facebook, Linked In, …” email from time to time, hopefully from people you actual want to talk to.

Last week I caught up with two friends – one who was on the Alliance Data Systems (ADS) deal team when they bought The Loyalty Group and later joined the team at US Loyalty/Jaz Rewards, the 2001 start up that attempted to develop a coalition loyalty program in the US.  The other was a dear friend from my freshman year at college whom I had not seen for almost 30 years.

Jim Sullivan, my former ADS colleague told me about his new business, Built to Lead, which as best as I can understand it, provides executive and organizational coaching to help  “build sustainable, high performance individuals, teams, and leaders in work and life.”  While I haven’t studied their web site, materials, exercizes and – most importantly – customer testimonials and case studies in sufficient detail to be able to recommend their services, I can tell you that Jim is very enthusiastic about Built to Lead.  I can also tell you that his elevator pitch/mission statement was one of the most break-through I have heard:

“we wake up dead people”

That one got my attention.  But it also got me thinking as Jim went on to talk about how many people are going through the motions at work, without anywhere near the passion they could have for their work and therefore likely under-performing on a daily basis.

A few nights later I had a wonderful dinner with my college friend.   She was working at a company that shall remain nameless, but it’s a fast growing retailer with over 800 outlets, a cool brand identity and  a name you would recognize.  She had read some of our writings about the importance of customer service and engaging “the employee sphere” in the creation of business value.  She went on to tell me about how her company’s culture was changing. Like most high growth businesses, the company found they needed larger space to accommodate their growing HQ staff and recently moved to a newer building.  A few things bothered her and most likely many other employees:

  • No one asked the employees what they liked most about their current space or what they wanted in the new offices. (They may have had a cross functional team with representatives form various departments,  but there clearly was no attempt to use a blog, wiki, an online survey tool like Survey Monkey or even a good old fashioned email survey to get the broader employee community’s input.)
  • The one thing that my friend thought everyone wanted was showers in the rest rooms, as the company is located in a part of the country where most people are highly active and fit and many either bike to work or go running or riding at lunch.  But no one asked what they wanted most and the employees arrived at the new office to find “huge new restrooms that could easily have accommodated a couple of showers”, but did not have even one.
  • One of the things she liked best about the old office was they almost everyone in her group rode their mountain bikes to work and parked them besides their cubes.  Anyone with a new bike received notice from others and “user reviews” were requested. Within a few minutes, test drives were taken around the office.  It was a fun way for people to take a break and do a little bonding. It sounded like mountain bikes had become the new water cooler or – probably more accurate – the mostly pre-kid employees version of sharing baby pictures.  All this changed at the new office when they arrived on the first day and were told “no bikes allowed on the elevators or in the office floors.”  Big surprise and at least a small bummer for the bike loving employees.

So what’s happening here?  At Underwood Partners, we have been working to develop a graphic that illustrates our belief that:

…asking employees, business partners and customers to contribute in the enterprise value creation process sets in motion a virtuous cycle of engagement, collaboration and contributions. (see The Philosophy & Approach of Web 2.0.)

Here’s our latest version:

We would appreciate any comments, suggestions or references/links to a better graphic than this one.  To us the formula engagement + collaboration = contributions/results/impact is consistent with our core beliefs and representative of our experiences from leading companies.  Recognizing the the contribution and its impact on the business can turbo-charge the cycle by taking everything to a higher level.  The only thing we don’t like about this graphic is that the boxes should be getting bigger with each revolution, but our power point skills need some expert assistance to do so.

We also believe that a corresponding “downward cycle” can be created by not engaging employees in the business outside of their functional/departmental roles.  Part of the cost of non-engagement is the lost opportunity of the creative ideas that come from cross-functional engagement.  But as this small example illustrates, the failure to listen to employees desires and ideas can  be de-energizing to committed members of your team and turn the water cooler (or mountain biking) conversations away from “isn’t this a cool place to work” to “our culture is changing, and not in a good way.”

Given the ubiquity of low cost, easy to implement social media technology tools designed to engage your stakeholders in your business, there is no excuse for not doing so.

What actions or non-actions are you taking today that will either “wake up dead people” or begin to kill your culture?

Case Study: Another Dell misfire demonstrates why Web 2.0 and customer service must be linked

I have been an IBM ThinkPad customer since 1991, about the year they starting making them, but the extremely poor customer service I experienced from Lenovo regarding my X61 Tablet forced me to look at other manufacturers. Although I have never been a fan of Dell laptops, I was attracted to the ads for the new latitude E6400 model and decided to give one a trial.

I first called Dell a few weeks ago and was pleased to be able to talk to Bernard, a sales rep. Three pluses for Bernard:

  1. He speaks flawless English and is  located in a US service center.
  2. He was very knowledgeable about configurations, listened to my needs and helped me understand why I needed a 7400 RPM hard drive.
  3. He never tried to oversell. I know this because I would have paid more for options I asked about, but he didn’t believe I needed them.
  4. He gave me a direct phone number where I could call him back.

All good. I also learned that he was on commission and told him I would call him back soon. Last week, I was ready to call Bernard back and close the deal. But before I did, I wanted to do a final check for user reviews of the E6400 (It is a new model and although CNET had a positive editors review/video, there were no customer reviews the first time I checked).

Fortunately, there were 5 reviews on the Dell site for the E6400. Unfortunately for Dell, 2 of the 5 were very negative:

In all fairness, the other 3 reviews were glowing, but these 2 did cause me to re-think my decision. I was also very surprised to learn that Dell did nothing at all to respond to these negative reviews on their own site. Back to our 6 Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses. Dell gets the imperative to support customers by enabling and encouraging users to talk about their products and services on the web. But this alone is necessary and – as this case shows – terribly insufficient. You must (a) listen to what they are saying and (b) authentically interact. Where is the E6400’s product manager’s response????

But wait, there’s more…

No problem, I thought. I’ll just call Bernard and he will be able to address these customer concerns quickly and move on to close the sale and earn his commission.

So I called Bernard, who answered the call himself. (More bonus points for Dell, or a sign of the slowing economy?) I told him I was ready to buy, but had read the negative reviews on the Dell web site and was concerned about making the purchase, especially given the comments about speed – a huge issue for me as I often work with 20MB+ presentations. To my incredulity, this is what happened next:

  • Bernard had no idea that there were negative comments about the laptop on the Dell site.
  • Obviously, he had not been made aware of these concerns as he had no credible answer, saying “What’s fast for some users may be very slow for others” or something to that effect.
  • He could not pull up the Dell Web site to read the review. I had to email it to him.

So here you have a Dell employee (or an employee of a Dell contractor) who had no idea that customers were complaining about the product he sold and no ability to even see the complaints. What’s happening from a 3C 5 Sphere perspective:

  • Bernard feels less than thrilled about not being aware of or able to respond to these Dell enabled complaints. Poor/no technical capability = decreased employee commitment.
  • I am less confident about buying the product. Failure to respond to customer reviews and equip sales agents to address them decreases the probability of a Dell purchase that could result in a long term $20-30,000 customer.
  • The call took longer than it should have and most customers would have thought more about it before purchasing, if at all. Increased costs.
  • I am writing this blog post and sharing a negative customer experience with everyone I know.

Some of you may be thinking, “If Dell isn’t going to address these types of customer complaints, they shouldn’t provide a forum for them on their site.”

This would be the exact wrong response. The more ubiquitous and easy blogging and other forms of customer generated feedback become, the more the probability that negative customer reviews about defective products will reach your potential customers will approach 100%. If Dell didn’t enable customer feedback, I would have found them on CNET or other sites.

Listen, ask, and authentically respond and act. It is not enough to stop at the second step.

Better yet, fix your quality problems.

Full disclosure note: despite Bernard’s inability to answer these customers concerns, I still ordered the laptop after being assured that Dell has a 30 day money back guarantee with no restocking fee (unlike Apple). No waiting for delivery. Stay tuned.

Extraordinary customer service mitigates disastrous start to long weekend

Last Friday I left Harvard Square early with plans to get a jump on the traffic to New Hampshire with my 9 year old son Myles and “5 going on 2” yellow lab Ginger. We left Brookline a little behind schedule around 4pm and by the time we reached Storrow Drive, the East Bound lane was backed up.  So, we opted to go West and pick up the Mass Pike in Alston. The ramp was narrowed due to construction and I bumped into the curb, thinking, “thank God that didn’t pop my tire.” Devine intervention was either non-existent or ephemeral as a few minutes later we were entering the ramp to the Mass Pike and it was clear I had a flat.

Fortunately, I was able to pull over in a safe place and started digging in the glove box for the owner’s manual to my beloved X3. As I sat up, I noticed a Massachusetts State Trooper pulling up behind me. ( In all candor, that did cause me to break a bead as a few years ago I collected 3 tickets within 6 months which satisfied the admissions criteria for 8 hours of driving safety school.) But this interaction ended up being a very different and pleasant experience. In hindsight, I assume that someone in the toll both called the Trooper.

Trooper Danny Jefferson was incredibly helpful as he got out of his car and told Myles and I he had already called someone to help. He offered to help me get the “donut” spare tire out of the back of the car, but suggested I wait for the Mass Pike emergency service vehicle who would have a much better/safer/easier jack to lift the car. Within a few minutes, Anthony Pellegrine arrived in his bright yellow truck with the aforementioned superjack and we were back on the road in less than 30 minutes from pulling over.

The “donut” was clearly labeled as a temporary device, with large letters warning not to drive over 50 miles per hour. As the main event for the weekend included traveling over the Sandwich Road from Waterville Valley to the Sandwich, NH Fair – a dirt and gravel road that is so rough it is closed in the winter (but incredibly beautiful; see my photos on smugmug) – I knew we had to make an additional stop to repair or replace the blown tire. Fortunately, we were only one exit away from Direct Tire’s Watertown facility and I called ahead while waiting for Anthony’s arrival.  Susan assured me that they would be ready when I arrived, even if they had to stay after closing time.  Direct Tire is one of my all time favorite businesses and owner Barry Steinberg a leading implementer of all we learned about customer loyalty at Bain; he has been featured in numerous business articles, including Inc Magazines 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs.

By the time Myles and I arrived at Direct Tire, they had a bay open for us and were waiting with a new high performance snow tire to replace the blown one. They welcomed Myles, Ginger and I into their waiting room and we were on our way within 30 minutes. Susan and her colleagues even told us a way to avoid the Mass Pike and most of the 128 North traffic by taking the local’s short cuts.

So here’s what happened:

– Great customer service turned what could have been a disastrous start of a long weekend into an incredibly positive experience; one which I have shared and will continue to share many many times over
– My son got to meet some really nice people who are great at their jobs and deliver extraordinary service
– I found positive content for my first customer service blog; a goal I had from the initial idea of including Customer Service as a major Collaboration Evangelist category.

Total elapsed time for all of this: less than 60 minutes and we were on our way.

Thanks to Trooper Jefferson, Anthony, Barry and the pit crew at Direct Tire and a special shout out to the Mylesman who was hugely patient and kept reading his favorite book Bone throughout the episode.

If extraordinary customer service can turn something as bad as a flat tire into an experience worthy of sharing with others, how many opportunities did your business capture or miss today that could have done the same?

Amazon Kindle

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

4 Reasons why the Amazon Kindle e-reader is one of the best devices ever, will help you lose weight, save money and lower your stress level.

My wonderful wife gave me an Amazon Kindle for our anniversary recently and I believe it is one of the best devices I have ever used; so good that I want to recommend it to everyone I know.

So what’s so great about the Kindle and why should you try one? Four simple words:  Content, Functionality, Portability and Value.

Content:

Every morning when I wake up, my Kindle has the latest copies of The New York Times, Boston Globe, WSJ, and Washington Post.  It also has the latest posts from the 5 tech/web 2.0 blogs I follow and several political blogs. I have also downloaded several books and the Kindle will open to the last page I read, but I primarily use it for newspapers and blogs.

I recently showed the Kindle to Ken Dec, one of my partners in Underwood Partners. Ken is a marketing/branding genius and instantly recognized that Amazon has been marketing the Kindle as an e-book reader, where as I (and probably most of you will) use it primarily as an e-paper/blog reader.

Functionality:

Readability:

The Kindle is about the side of a medium paper back, although much thinner: 7.5 inches tall x 5 inches wide x 0.5 inches think.  The reading screen is about 5 x 3.5.  One of the reasons the Kindle is superior to other readers I have tried is that they have come as close to possible to replicating black ink on white paper (the most readable combination). Although the screen is not back-lit and therefore requires some light on planes, in bed, etc., you can read it in bright sunlight without any difficulty – say while your 9 year old son is warming up for a soccer game.

The Kindle has multiple font sizes, which can be changed by clicking two buttons once.  I found this to be extremely helpful the second day I had the Kindle when I took it to a hotel exercise room and found I needed to increase the font size to be legible on the recumbent bike (re: the “lose weight” comment above).  It’s also a god send if you forget your reading glasses.

Turning Pages:

To turn pages you push a bar on either side of the Kindle to go the next or previous page.  A “back” button takes you back to the pervious section you were on.

When reading newspapers the menu button will bring up a drop down window with several choices: front page, sections list, articles list.  This enables you to go to the section you want (e.g., Sports) or scroll through all of the articles in the paper or within a section.

Downloading Content:

One of the best features of the Kindle is you can download content anywhere in the country as long as you have any signal on the Sprint network.  Amazon calls their network the “Whispernet” and it truly works almost anywhere.  Newspapers, blogs, magazines all update automatically whenever there is new content and you have the “connect” switch on.  Although you pay for content (see below), you do not pay for the air time and don’t have to log onto T-Mobile or any other pay site. It literally works everywhere – even in my Dad’s nursing room home in rural West Virginia.

To add content you select “Shop in Kindle Store” from the menu and have your choice of 190,000 books, 26 newspapers, 18 Magazines and 940 blogs. All newspapers, blogs and magazines have a two week free trial, and books allow you to read a section before purchasing.  Books usually sell for $9.99, newspapers $9.99 per month and blogs a dollar or two.  All cost less than their paper versions. The download time is amazing – 200 page books in a minute or two.  All payments are made through your Amazon one click settings, so you don’t waste time entering credit card numbers and billing addresses.

Underlining and writing notes on pages:

When I was CEO of Loyalty (and before kids) I read several books a month and would underline important passages, making notes in the margin of business related books.  Our receptionist would type up the notes and sections and I would share them with our senior management team and clients.  The Kindle lets you do this without the receptionist.  With a couple of clicks you can highlight sections and also type notes using the keyboard at the bottom of the Kindle.  You  can then email or print the sections from your PC.

Portability and stress relief:

The Kindle weighs just 0.6 lb; slightly more than my Blackberry which weighs 0.5 lb.  With its small width and size it is easy to fit in a briefcase or just carry with you anywhere.  So here’s how it reduces stress. Carry it with you always and you can blast through a few articles or blog posts if you are:  waiting for the person in front of you at the grocery checkout lane trying to find her coupons, checkbook, etc.; so far, flight attendants have not yet figured them out so you can read during take-off and landings; the 15 minutes the traffic police keep you waiting to give you a ticket – no problem; your best friend who is always late for breakfast, let him take his time; etc., etc., etc.  And guys, the Kindle makes it easy to take 5 newspapers to the bathroom with you.

I also found it to be highly functional in my favorite NYC restaurant (Wild Edibles,3rd & 35th) where I was able to read despite having covered the 18″‘ square table with three appetizers,  drinking a beer  with one hand a eating sushi with the other, needing only a 5X7 inch space for the Kindle and one finger to navigate. It also came in handy after shoulder surgery when it would have been impossible to handle a broadsheet traditional paper.

Value

The Kindle costs about $350 from amazon.com and I assume you can try it and return for a complete refund if you don’t like it.  They can also be found on craigslist for around $200, but not often.   Even at the full price, the payback on the difference between the paper price and the Kindle price of the NYT, WSJ and Boston Globe is less than 6 months.

Improvements

The only things I would like to see on the Kindle are an easy way to forward articles to friends and colleagues and some kind of backlight, although traditional clip on book lights can take care of this need for now.  Without a “tell a friend” button, the Kindle lacks one of the basic Web 2.0 imperatives of making it easy for consumers to share/evangelize with their friends.  Look for that in a future version.

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

Facebook, Amazon and the 4R’s of relationship marketing

When 2 former Bain consultants and one recently minted Harvard MBA started AIR MILES Canada, we knew a lot about the economics of customer loyalty and how to quickly understand and model the profit drivers of almost any business. We also knew almost nothing about database marketing other than a few buzzwords one of us picked up from a girlfriend.

One thing we knew for sure was that if we could build a broad based coalition of leading Canadian companies who committed to market the program to their customers, we would have the opportunity to create and utilize one of the world’s best marketing databases. All of our friends got that as well; and every one of them thought we would “make a ton of money selling the database.” What they didn’t get was our founding principal of not selling the “list” to businesses outside of the Sponsor coalition (i.e. the companies who paid for the points. We believed we could create the future of database marketing (although we didn’t have a clue as to how we were going to do that), but only if we developed a relationship with our Collectors built on trust.

Before long, we began to talk about the 4 R’s of Relationship Marketing and sketching this diagram on napkins and tablecloths around Toronto, Montreal and Calgary:

The 4 R's

We described our thinking about building relationships like this:

1. If we recognized that when people showed their AIR MILES card at a retail Sponsor we were rewarding them for both their loyalty to the Sponsor’s business and the fact that they were sharing information with our company (by purchasing the good or service and identifying themselves as an AIR MILES Collector, they were telling us when and where they made the purchase, if they were responding to a targeted offer or coalition promotion, etc.), and…
2. If we respected the information Collectors shared with us – including demographic and shopping intention information millions shared with us in return for bonus miles – and didn’t sell or give that information to anyone outside of the AIR MILES coalition (and not even other Sponsors if so requested), and…
3. If we used the information to present relevant offers to Collectors based on their shopping habits, needs and interests (if a Collector was turned down for an AIR MILES Mastercard, we wouldn’t send them additional bonus offers to apply for one; if we knew there were only guys living in a household, we wouldn’t send them offers for women’s magazines; no car, no Goodyear offers, etc.), then…
4. We would create higher open, read and respond rates to both our basic offers as well as our targeted specific offers and bonuses, which would – in turn – give us the opportunity to reward both loyalty and the sharing of information.

If you think about this simple model, it doesn’t just apply to relationship marketing, but also to basic human relationships as well. If you begin to develop a relationship with someone and share something personal and confidential with them, that relationship will be short lived if they share it with others or otherwise don’t respect your confidence. Likewise, we tend to develop relationships with people we have at least something in common with – some point of relevance – be it kids, snowboarding or web 2.0. If these 2 elements are present, the potential for a relationship exits; without them, one probably won’t develop.

This model, along with a lot of other parts of the AIR MILES model, appears to have worked fairly well as the program now has over 70% (that’s 9 million) Canadian households as members. More pointedly, while I was CEO, we had open rates for our (snail mail) direct marketing programs of over 70%. Although AIR MILES doesn’t share specific data on email response rates, my understanding is that the company enjoys high open and click through rates for their email marketing programs.
Which brings me to Facebook, Amazon and Eons. Like Jeremiah and many others, I was amused to be served up a banner ad on Facebook last spring for “Thirty Plus and Single” when on the same page I clearly listed my status as “married.”

Facebook was clearly not getting the relevance part and I don’t need to go into all of the respect angles of Beacon. Business Week had a good article on the social networking sites’ challenges with developing advertising.

Like many, I use a separate email account for marketing emails. Last week, as I was cleaning them out, I found 2 other examples of online businesses not getting the 4 R’s from Eons and Amazon.
John Della Volpe, the founder of SocialSphere, always thought one of the challenges facing Eons was that many people over 50 aren’t really excited about standing up and telling everyone, or joining a social network for those over the hill. Do people really like to say, “Hey, I’m old?” Partially because I’m in the business, partially because I know Jeff through our work with Year Up, and partially because I was eligible (even before they lowered the age threshold) I joined Eons. But I never really got the value proposition. At least AARP’s mailings tell you right up front about discounts and other offers they bring. Not terribly hip, but getting a deal on anything will always be relevant to me.
So imagine how jazzed I was to open an email only to be greeted with an offer to “get pictures of your grandkids” or something like that. Surely, they have some way of knowing I am probably a couple of decades away from being a granddad. Not relevant and not the kind of email someone like me would open again.

Then Amazon, who has many features I dearly love and admire (Amazon prime may be the world’s best loyalty program – more on that in a future post) sends me an email with a recommendation to buy a case for the flip video I recently purchased.

So what’s wrong with that? Take a look at the user ratings – 2 STARS! This one stood out to me because I had already checked out the product and new it was a dud. Amazon served up the “people who bought this product also looked at these” content when I was purchasing the flip. After seeing the 2 stars and reading a couple of reviews (e.g. “This pouch is really cheaply made, hard to use, and not worth the money at all”), I didn’t bite.

Back to our core principle – building a relationship built on trust. As John Lederer, the longtime leader of Loblaws supermarkets often said, “the consumer has given us their trust to select products for them to be available in our stores.” Although Amazon sells many products through third party retailers and clearly lets you know they are not being sold by amazon.com, it’s one thing to sell products you have little control over and another thing completely to send an email to a highly active customer recommending a product other customers have given a 2-star rating. I have come to trust that Amazon will offer great products and extraordinary service. I have been less enamored with their recommendations and – given this latest example – am less even likely to look at their recommendations or open their emails.

The more time I spend in this space, the more I realize that on-line community builders and advertisers can learn a lot from those of us that also spent time in the traditional direct mail and loyalty space. In true web 2.0 fashion, combining the best of both models will create the most effective strategies.

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Tim Horton’s and Facebook – A Case Study of Lost Opportunity

this post was also posted on Social Sphere Strategies

For the past six months, we have been recommending to clients, potential clients and anyone unlucky enough to sit next to one of us at a dinner party that all businesses need to do the following:

1. Get smart – find a way to get senior executives aware of the philosophy and applications of Web 2.0, including how other leading businesses are beginning to use 2.0 to collaborate with employees, business partners and customers.
2. Look around and listen in – audit competitors’ web sites and the greater web to see if others in your industry have embraced Web 2.0 and what your customers and employees may be saying about your business on the web.
3. Authentically interact – if your brand is being discussed within an existing community, assign someone the responsibility of interacting with the community so your side of the story gets out.
4. Activate your stakeholder communities – we believe all businesses have at least an internal sphere opportunity to use Web 2.0 to proactively engage their employees in creating business value and most also have partner and customer opportunities.

We often get push back along the following lines, “I know all about Facebook, my kids spend all their time there. But that’s because they don’t have jobs and mortgages. There is no way they’ll be able to spend that kind of time on-line when they are adults. This whole thing is a fad.” To this we usually respond with a non Facebook Web 2.0 personal example. Mine is often around an experience I had recently trying to find after market running boards for my Lexus 400h SUV by looking for a user group on the manufacturer’s web site. When that attempt was unsuccessful, I went to Edmunds.com. Although I found a user group for my vehicle, it was sponsored by competing SUV ads. By not hosting a user community, Lexus had driven me to their competitors’ ads.

Last week, a better example of the importance of understanding and embracing Web 2.0 was reported in the National Post in an article about the Canadian coffee and donut chain Tim Horton’s, “Tim Horton’s employees lay down rules for cranky customers.”
Tim Horton’s is the “Dunkin Donuts of Canada.” Their stores are ubiquitous and the product a cultural phenomenon (Horton was a Canadian hockey star). A reporter for the National Post – a Canadian nationwide business paper – found over 500 Facebook groups related to Tim Horton’s and chose to focus on one with 3,400 members called Tim Hortons Rules of Ordering and More which features employees and former employees complaining about customers. The group is described as:
“This is for everyone who gets fed up with people who don’t know what they want, and for workers who have to put up with this everyday. If people would just listen to these rules when ordering the world will be a better place,”

The Post reported that the “80 rules or so spell out how to make your visit to Tim’s more efficient: ‘When you want a coffee with no sugar, do not say no sugar it sounds like your saying one sugar” or ‘If you don’t say you want anything in your coffee don’t expect to get anything in it, we can’t read your mind’ and ‘Stop telling us to stir it well there is no button on the cash register for that.’ ”

The article continued “But the coffee slingers are not the only ones airing their beefs on Facebook. Frustrated clients also have their support groups such as Tim Hortons Screws up my Order Every Time and Tim Hortons Service Sucks.”

Although the reporter focused the bulk of her article on the negative aspects of this particular group, she did report “But there is a silver lining for Tim Hortons employees. Many Facebook groups, like Addicted to Tim Hortons, are very positive and they seem to always have time for Tim Hortons.”

Apparently unaware of what was on Facebook, Tim Horton’s PR did not return reporters calls. It appears Tim Horton’s didn’t invest the resources to “listen in” to what was being said about their brand on the web.

Imagine how different this could have been if Tim Horton’s executives were (a) aware of what was being said about their brand on the web and (b) embraced an employee community.
If the company had been monitoring Facebook, they would have found that some of the largest groups are actually positive ones – Tim Horton’s for Our Troops – has 16, 965 members and encourages people to send gift certificates to members of the armed services. There are actually 3 “addicted to Tim Horton’s” groups which total over 15,000 members and “Tim Horton’s is like a religion to me” has over 1,900 members. The application “We Love Tim Horton’s!” described as “The best coffee ever! Fans of Timmys can now send Double Doubles, Tim Bits, Steeped Tea, Cruellers, Iced Cappucinos & lots more to your friends! For Canadian and US Coffee Lovers everywhere!” has over 84,000 daily users. Keep in mind that Tim Horton’s is largely a Canadian company and that there are roughly 1/10th as many Canadians as Americans, so you can multiply these numbers by 10 to get an idea of how large their Facebook following is.

Redirecting the reporter to these facts would probably been a better response that not returning her calls.

Although many will see the cost of this article as at least a minor PR challenge, we see a greater cost in the missed (but not necessarily lost) opportunity to have engaged the employee sphere to help address the very real problem of customers that can be hard to serve. The fact that so many of Tim Horton’s employee (and customers) have written about their experiences – both positive and negative – is a clear sign of a very engaged community. You need look no further than this week’s post from the group’s administrator:

I just want to let everyone know that just because I made the group certainly doesn’t mean I hate my job. Personally, I love my job. I like the people I work with and the regulars that come in every shift …If I wanted to disrespect my job would have made a group called “I hate my job, Tim Horton’s sucks” but I didn’t. … And yes, I still have my job there.”

Management could have asked employees to create funny videos explaining how to order more efficiently, done “best and worst” customer stories, etc. Employees and customers could have rated the stories. Product or customer bingo and Tim Horton’s trivia games could have been created and challenge matches forwarded to friends.

So, the questions for those of you who still think Facebook, blogs and wiki’s are for your kids or a fad that will surely fade are:

1) What’s being said about your company on the web?
2) Will you be ready to take a reporter’s call or unavailable for comment?

Ultima Replenisher

To go to Amazon.com, purchase this product and have 10% of the purchase price donated to Year Up , the innovative work force development nonprofit started by Gerald Chertavian, click here:

Ultima Replenisher, Kiwi Strawberry, 90-Serving Canister

This is a very quick recommendation for a powdered “balanced electrolight drink”  I found at Baptiste Yoga.  Think of it as a better, cheaper gatoraide.  Better because it is sugar free and sweetened with the natural sweetner Stevia and is “Gluten Free, 100% non-GMO, no MSG, no caffeine, Vegan and no dairy.”  It also tastes a lot better, IMHO. Cheaper, because it costs less than $25 for a 90 serving container. You mix the drink yourself, it dissolves instantly and stays mixed for days.

Most importantly, it is by far the best thirst quencher I have ever used.  Baptiste Yoga is “hot yoga” and I found drinking this mix was the only way I could really feel hydrated after a work out.

I am sure there are interesting things you can do with this mix. The only one I have found is you can make a better, cheaper version of Red Bull by mixing it with iced green tea.  So, should we call it CHUBULL,  RED CHU, or RED UP?

ONE WARNING – I CAN ONLY ENDORSE THE KIWI-STRAWBERRY FLAVOR.  You are on you own for all others!

LeaseTrader.com

For years, I always had the car combo favored by David Fialkow, among other locals – an older Porsche 994 C4 Cabriolet (911 to the layman) and a relatively new jeep for the winter.  But Michael Bronner’s passion for lowering all of our carbon footprint lead me to ditch the jeep a year ago (I kept trying to get the higway MPG above 16, but just couldn’t do it).  I tried a Lexus 400 H, but the plastic covering of the roof racks broke off under the weight of a couple of kayaks, so I it became Patty’s car.

I was interested in the BMW X3 (27 MPG highway, as fast as my Porsche and great in the snow), but felt certain that new hybrid’s and diesels would hit the dealers with 12 months and didn’t want to lock into a 2 or 3 year lease, but no-one would offer me a one year deal.  In frustration, I called BMW finance and ask if they had people trying to get out of their leases.  The very nice lady on the phone told me something like “I can’t tell you where to go, but if you Google “lease assumptions” you might find something that will help you.  Her kind advice led me to LeaseTrader.com, now one of my favorite sites.

Lease trader is a market maker that brings people trying to get out of their leases and people looking for a short term lease together.  You can search for any vehicle, any price, monthly mileage, payments, months remaining, and distance from you zip code. For free, you can find cars you are interested in, with options and pictures.   But in order to communicate with the seller, you have to be pre-approved for a lease which costs something like $45 (a great business model and very good way to qualify leads).  I found a fully loaded 2005 X3 in Sudbury for only $450 a month.  The seller had put down a big down payment on a three year lease and his wife was about to deliver twins when I found him. To give you an idea of how good a deal this is, my lease is coming to an end and I called BMW finance to ask what it would cost to extend the lease for another year or two – $800/month!  Here’s a screen shot:

Gizmodo

One of my favorite blogs is a site called Gizmodo.  As the name implies, it covers new “gizmo’s or gadgets ranging from all new cell phones from around the world, to new PC’s to wind turbines, home PT ultra-sound machines and even the fancy toilets like the one they have at Accretive, LLC (which still scares me).

Best of all, the posts are very short and written for those of us without a degree or two from MIT.

Always worth a quick, fun read and usually where i turn first before getting into my heavier Web 2.0, politics, world events, etc. news.  I read it on my Kindle, but the pictures are much better on a computer.