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September 2005
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November 2005

Humans, Auto Attendants and Marketing

When interfacing with large numbers of customers,  many companies use auto attendants.  I like them.  If they are used carefully.   Many times you just need a trivial piece of information: how many minutes on my cell phone are left, or what are your store hours?  But sometimes it is a unique question or problem and some companies drop you into an auto attendant ping pong match.   The best systems have a two tier approach.  After going through two levels of prompts you can talk to a real live person.   And my tolerance level for on-hold music is about 60 seconds.  Finally you need to be able to escalate an issue quickly.

Just this week I had two great experiences with customer support.   The first was with Zions Bank where I had the person's name but needed a phone number.   It took me all of 20 seconds to get through the auto attendant and reach a support person who immediately connected me.   This bank understands customer service.   Right on the home page is a link to contact the president.  And he replies within the day.  Now that's impressive.

The second was with TransUnion, the credit reporting agency.  A year ago I needed to make a correction on my credit report.   I got stuck in a call center for about an hour and was finally given a fax number which was always busy.   So after a bit of research I called into the executive suite.  He promptly solved my problem and we had a great discussion about escalation procedures.   Just last week had the need to call them again.  This time I spent about 30 minutes in the India call center, got bumped up to a specialist state side who gave me a special fax number and solved the problem.   

This has everything to do with marketing.  Every person who touches your customer is responsible for marketing.   And the most important message a customer can hear is "We'll take care of that for you."  And they do it.

Yanking the Leash

I like working with analysts from a couple of perspectives.   When doing due diligence on a deal they bring a lot of domain experience on a particular subject and when building a company their insight can prevent you from sucking your own exhaust.  So I'm always on the look out for those interesting boutique analysts.   What happened today left me flabbergasted.   

A VC is looking at funding a company doing some innovative things.  One potential side benefit related to voice over IP.   So off I went looking for pertinent research.   I found  a firm I had not heard of before, but they seemed to have some interesting titles.   Normally you can look at the abstract and the table of contents, but this firm put up a registration wall.   I figured they wanted to capture some leads for the sales group.  Filled out the form and got an email.  Didn't want to talk to me.  Since I have listed "market research" on my web site, I was told I was a competitor and that was that.

Wow!  A marketer's dream.  Sales people who keep people from buying your product.   In marketing we love to give our sales group the tools, the message, the value and let them hunt.  But when they start barking at the customers, you better bring out the short leash.

Hanging Out With The Cool Kids

There is a branch of marketing some call partner marketing and others call business development.  When I talk about business development, I'm not talking about people who have the title and a quota.  That's business sales (or b.s. for short).  I'm talking about people who are focused on helping a potential partner acheive their goals and strategies and aligning them with their own companies goals and strategies.

Some biz dev departments are totally focused on quantity, "And thou shall know them by the sheer number of press releases generated on a quarterly basis."  But others are driven by a sense of inadequacy.   They always wanted to be one of the cool kids, but just couldn't get there.  So instead they figure by hanging out with the cool kids, some of the coolness would rub off on them.   So instead of picking partners based on the highest mutual gain quotient, instead they try to hitch their wagons to those partners which are the darlings of the press at the moment.

Bad move.   Your job is getting your company where it wants to go.   And to do so you pick thoses partners who can help you.  Not as a leech, but as a contributor.   From a marketing perspective you determine what your partner needs, and deliver the goods.   Then you are partners.  It requires a blending of marketing, management, negotiations and some pretty good understanding of contract law and intellectual property.  Do so, and you gain respect and move both your company and your partners to achieving their objectives.  And that is what business development is all about.

One time I was handed a major strategic partner.  We made software, they made hardware, chips and other very interesting things.   After several meetings with  my counter part, she told me our company was viewed as nothing more than an OEM partner.  Ouch!   Part of the complication came from our new CEO who came from one of their competitors.   So we delivered the goods.  We tuned our software so our partner's boxes blew the doors off of the competitor's box.   Within the year we were invited to meet with their CEO, Andy and his executive staff.  Must have made a good impression because we worked together on a very significant project after that.   And yes, the announcement kicked up the stock price.  A very nice side benefit.

Marketing Lipstick for a Pig

Sometimes "free" is not worth it.   When it comes to security on my computer, well I'm a wee bit paranoid.   I tend to believe that single source solutions may all contain an Achille's heel, so I use products from different vendors;  Microsoft's anti-spyware (with a back end system named spynet, who could resist), Sygate's personal firewall and Trend's PC-Cillin.   Being a Comcast customer, I could download McAfee's "Online Privacy" product for free.

That was a mistake.


During installation my spyware started sending me all sorts of warning messages.  But I kept on going.    After installation and rebooting, I now had "Privacy Protection".  So I visited a few web sites and then looked at my new "Privacy Protection".   Turns out this McAfee product is Spyware.   So even though you clear your history, browser caches, etc. , this thing keeps a copy.

You also get a free Security Center which tells you how good your protection is on your computer:
OMG!   Hackers can get to me, according to McAfee.  Clicked on the info button and it says I have no firewall.  But I am running Sygate.  Very confusing.   It did find my Trend anti-virus.  So I did a chat discussion with McAfee customer support (very responsive) and have this conversation:

**tech person**: Bruce, McAfee Security Center will only incorporate McAfee Personal Firewall not any other third party product.
Bruce Fryer: but it found my Trend anti-virus
Bruce Fryer: Is marketing trying to push your brand of firewall <grin>
**tech person**: May I place you on hold for five minutes while I research this issue?
Bruce Fryer: cool
**tech person**: Thank you for holding.
**tech person**: Bruce, McAfee Security Center will not incorporate any third party product

Huh?   Trend is a 3rd party product.   So product management decided Sygate would not be detected, but Trend would.   Maybe they are trying to scare people into thinking competitive firewall products don't work  and have them buy the McAfee solution.

Marketing should have called "Privacy Protection"  "Spyware for Parents" or something like that.   So of course I uninstalled it, rebooted my machine and though I could put this behind me.   

Then I got this:Mc_uninstall_1

So even though you uninstall Privacy Protection, it leaves something behind which contacts the homeoffice without your knowledge.   Back to customer support.  Now I'm running XP sp2 which is the latest and greatest.   Turns out to uninstall their program I have to bring up the command prompt, go into the registry and manually remove the McAfee keys.

Marketing was asleep at the wheel here.  If you are doing low level system security products, you should at the minimum make sure it actually works well and not leave behind it's own spyware stubs which comminicate with external machines.    Being in charge of a product which spys on activity on your machine and promoting it as "Privacy Protection" is like selling "compassionate conservatism".   Maybe I'll chalk this up to marketing oxymorons.