Consumer – Social media business strategies blog Tue, 24 Apr 2018 10:34:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Consumer – 32 32 Top 5 CRM platforms for small business Thu, 16 May 2013 12:11:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> CRM

Insightly, SugarCRM, Nimble, Zoho CRM lead way

Guest post by Megan Totka
Chief Editor,

MeganTotkaAt some point, a growing small or medium-size business comes face to face with a basic question: How do we manage our relationships with our customers?

By using customer relationship management (CRM) software, a business owner can track customers’ shopping and buying habits, information about new prospects, sales, vendors, past interactions via social media and more. A good CRM system organizes all this information and makes it easily accessible, allowing team members to work more efficiently and productively.

CRM software was once reserved for corporations and enterprise-level businesses that had access to the technology — and the resources to use it. But as more software vendors have developed CRM platforms, adding features and honing both functionality and integration, this powerful business tool has been refined into versions easier to use and more affordable for companies of all sizes.

Today, there are many CRM solutions designed especially with small businesses in mind.

Insightly: Integrates with Gmail & Google apps


1The small business CRM system Insightly packs a lot of powerful features into an extremely affordable package that integrates fully with Google’s increasingly popular Gmail and suite of Google apps. Its project management tools — which include conversation histories, customer profiles and a data management suite that associates email attachments with users and related projects — are well developed and intuitive. The flexible calendar system allows users to add, update and share meetings and events with ease. With on-the-fly customization, users can add custom fields and filters to suit their display preferences. A built-in notification system keeps everyone up to date, and with mobile apps for iOS and Android, this platform is ideal for remote workers who need access from anywhere. Insightly also includes social media integration with Twitter.

Cost: The basic service is free for up to three users, and business owners who select additional features, users and storage can expect to pay about $5 per user per month with paid levels of service beginning at $29 for 4-6 users per month.

SugarCRM: Open source solution does a lot out of the box


2 Sugar, an open source CRM application, can be customized to meet even the most particular needs of a small business. The system supports sales, marketing, customer service, email, calendar, conferencing and project management right out of the box. It also integrates fully with the WordPress platform and popular social media sites. The Sugar community has already built some extensions and created new integrations that users can leverage to expand their data management and customer outreach toolkit. As an optional upgrade, SugarCRM also offers versions for mobile phones and tablets.

Cost: The price is a bit steep starting at $35 per user per month, but if your business needs an extensive, robust CRM platform and has the IT staff to support customization efforts, Sugar may be the smart choice.

Nimble: Addresses your ‘social listening’ needs


3With an emphasis on social CRM (SCRM), Nimble delivers a feature-rich experience at an affordable price. The platform uses a familiar, social-media-style interface that integrates with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more to provide a unified stream of your CRM information in the social sphere. Nimble’s feature set also includes sales and marketing tools, activity management with calendar import and sync, a “social listening” feature that allows users to set search parameters for terms that appear in the Twitter and Facebook streams, and app add-ons for extended features like lead capture and analytics.

Cost: Users who like what they see after trying a free personal account can upgrade to a business plans priced at $15 per user per month.

Zoho CRM: Free version is a strong choice


4A healthy feature set and excellent pricing options including a free version for up to three users makes Zoho CRM a strong choice for small business. Some of the tools that come with Zoho’s free version are social CRM integration, reports and dashboards, and lead and contact management. Paid versions include features like sales forecasting, marketing and workflow automation, and advanced CRM analytics.

Cost: The professional level Zoho plan is $12 per user per month, while the enterprise level runs $25 per user per month.

Prophet: Integrated with Microsoft apps

5Avidian Prophet offers all of the core tools and functions you’d expect from a modern CRM platform. Integrating closely with Microsoft applications, it offers Outlook users an interface that focuses more on familiarity and user-friendliness than powerful, nuanced features. And because its functionality is tied so intimately into that of Outlook (some functions even require the use of a Microsoft Exchange Server), it may have a bit of a steeper learning curve for those who aren’t already using Microsoft’s office suite.

Cost: The hosted cost of Prophet starts at $45 per user per month or can be set up on a local server for a one-time charge of $500 per user.

With such a wide range of pricing and available features, choosing a CRM platform is about so much more than which system has the lowest price tag. The total cost of any CRM solution isn’t always reflected in the up-front fee, and it’s worth your time and energy to determine which system has the right balance of features and affordability that best fits your business. Choosing the right system for your business lets you tackle customer relationship management in a new way and take your business to the next level.

Megan Totka is the chief editor of She specializes in the topic of small business tips and resources. helps small businesses grow their business on the Web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.
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Google Glass: A revolutionary advance Tue, 30 Apr 2013 12:02:19 +0000 Continue reading ]]> scoble-with-glass

Google’s newest addition gives glimpse into future of technology

Guest post by Robert Scoble

robert-scobleIf you aren’t familiar with Google Glass yet, just wait, you will be. A wearable computer with a head-mounted display, Google Glass is giving users access to information while they’re on the go. After using Google Glass for the past two weeks, I’m sharing my thoughts about the product. How much of a game changer is it? In the end, it will come down to the price.

Over the past wweek I gave five speeches while wearing Google Glass. I passed through airports six times and let hundreds of people try my Glass. I have barely taken it off since getting it other than to sleep.

Here are my impressions:

    I will never live a day of my life from now on without Google Glass (or a competitor). It’s that significant.
  • I will never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor). It’s that significant.
  • The success of this totally depends on price. Each audience I asked at the end of my presentations “who would buy this?” As the price got down to $200 literally every hand went up. At $500, a few hands went up. This was consistent, whether talking with students, or more mainstream, older audiences.
  • Nearly everyone had an emotional outburst of “wow,” “amazing” “that’s crazy” or “stunning.”
  • At NextWeb, 50 people surrounded me and wouldn’t let me leave until they had a chance at trying them. I haven’t seen that kind of product angst at a conference for a while. This happened to me all week long.
  • Most of the privacy concerns I had before coming to Germany just didn’t show up. I was shocked by how few negative reactions I got (only one, where an audience member said he wouldn’t talk to me with them on). Funny, someone asked me to try them in a bathroom (I had them aimed up at that time and refused).
  • I discovered a total generational gap. The older people said they would use them but were far more skeptical and less passionate. The 13- to 21-year-olds I met had different response.

Glass keeps users roped into Google’s services

Google Glass

Let’s cover the price. I bet that CEO Larry Page is considering two price points: something around $500, which would be very profitable. Or $200, which is about what the bill of materials costs. When you tear apart the glasses, like someone else did (I posted that to my Flipboard “Glasshole” magazine), you see a bunch of parts that aren’t expensive. This has been designed for mass production. In other words, millions of units. The only way Google will get there is to price them under $300.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Larry went very aggressive and priced them at $200.

Why would Google do this? Easy. I’m now extremely addicted to Google services. My photos and videos automatically upload to Google+. Adding other services will soon be possible (I just got a Twitter photo app that is being developed by a third party), but turning on automatic uploads to other services will kill my batteries on both my phone and my glasses (which doesn’t have much battery life anyway). So, I’m going to be resistant to adding Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Evernote, and Tumblr to my glasses. This is especially the case when Google+ works darn well and is the default.

Google: Moving away from an advertising-based business model?

Also, Google is forbidding advertising in apps. This is a huge shift for Google’s business model. I believe Larry Page is moving Google from an advertising-based company to a commerce-based company.

The first thing I tried that it failed on was, “Find me a sushi restaurant.” I’m sure that will get fixed soon and Google could conceivably collect a micropayment any time I complete a transaction like reserving a seat at a restaurant or telling a store like Bloomingdales “get me these jeans.”

There are literally billions of dollars to be made with this new commerce-based system, rather than force us to sit and look at ads, the way Facebook and tons of other services do.

Glass increases efficiency with unprecedented accuracy

Google Glasss

When you wear these glasses for two weeks, you realize that having these on opens you up to a new commerce world. Why?

  1. They are much more social than looking at a cell phone. Why? I don’t need to look away from you to use Google, or get directions, or do other things.
  2. The voice works and works with nearly everyone and in every situation. It’s the first product that literally everyone could use with voice. It’s actually quite amazing, even though I know that the magic is that it expects to hear only a small number of things. “OK Glass, take a picture” works. “OK Glass, take a photo” doesn’t. The Glass is forcing your voice commands to be a certain set of commands and no others will be considered. This makes accuracy crazy high, even if you have an accent.

I continue to be amazed with the camera. It totally changes photography and video. Why? I can capture moments. I counted how many seconds it takes to get my smartphone out of my pocket, open it up, find the camera app, wait for it to load, and then take a photo. Six to 12 seconds. With Google Glass? Less than one second. Every time. And I can use it without having hands free, like if I’m carrying groceries in from the car and my kids are doing something cute.

I’ve been telling people that this reminds me of the Apple II, which I unboxed with my dad back in 1977. It was expensive. It didn’t do much. But I knew my life had changed in a big way and would just get better and better. Already this week I’ve gotten a new RSS app, the New York Times App, and a Twitter app with many more on the way.

This is certainly the most interesting new product since the iPhone, and I don’t say that lightly.

Yeah, I could say the camera isn’t good in low light. I could say it doesn’t have enough utility. It looks dorky. It freaks some people out (it’s new, that will go away once they are in the market).

But I don’t care. This has changed my life. I will never live a day without it on. It is that significant.

Now, Larry, if you can find a way to make it $200, you’ll have a major hit on your hands.

Robert Scoble has been blogging at the Scobleizer blog since 2000. He is Startup Liaison for Rackspace and a correspondent for its Building43 blog. Follow him on Google Plus or Twitter at @scobleizer.

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3 key inbound marketing strategies for mobile apps Wed, 03 Apr 2013 12:10:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> hugemarkets

Be social, court your fans and tell your story

Target audience: Marketing professionals, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, businesses, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers, app developers. This article originally appeared at SEOmoz and is republished with permission.

By Robi Ganguly
CEO, Apptentive

robigMobile. The word makes some of us cringe these days. Everywhere you look in the marketing world, you see signs of it – mobile this, mobile that.

Sometimes, I feel like we’re pushing the idea of mobile to the limit. But then I look at the numbers:

  • Apps have already surpassed the Web when it comes to consumer time spent and are second only to time spent watching TV.
  • There are more than 750,000 apps in the App Store alone.
  • These apps have over 40 billion downloads.
  • There are 1 billion smartphones in the world, and that number will triple in three years.


There are more than a billion people looking for information on their mobile devices. Do you know what works when consumers are looking for information? Inbound marketing.

In this post, I share the top three most effective inbound marketing tips app marketers can use to begin making waves in the world of mobile.

Inbound marketing wins in mobile

The opportunity to connect deeply with consumers through inbound marketing has never been larger than it is today, and mobile is fueling a huge amount of the growth. When it comes to apps, all you need to know is this: Apps have already surpassed the Web when it comes to consumer time spent, and are second only to time spent watching television.


It’s 2013, but in the world of mobile apps, it’s like it’s 2001 all over again.

The secret is this: Very few companies are taking advantage of this space. It’s 2013, but in the world of mobile apps, it’s like it’s 2001 all over again.

App developers and their audiences need help acquiring customers profitably and not focusing simply on vanity metrics, such as number of downloads. That’s where inbound marketing comes in.

Inbound marketing on the web has matured and grown a lot over the past several years. We can learn a lot from our past and apply it to our future (i.e. we can take what we know and apply it to mobile marketing). Below are three simple inbound marketing strategies for mobile apps that are delivering absolutely incredible results.

Be social

1By this point, we should all understand how important social is to any good marketing strategy. However, when it comes to mobile, social is just what we do as humans. We text and email like crazy. We ride the bus and check Facebook. We Instagram our lunches and tweet our random observations while standing in line at Starbucks.

These days, to be mobile is to be social. This means that social is a perfect venue for conversations about your mobile app’s offerings. Let’s take a look at two of social’s leaders and how they can be used for mobile purposes.


A while back, Nike ran a Twitter-focused experiment to introduce a new mobile app they’d created. They proactively shared their content and the app with likely consumers who were sharing their athletic activities on Twitter. The results astounded them. Their two week experiment yielded:

  • Over three clicks per outbound tweet
  • A doubling of the positive ratings and reviews in the App Store for their app
  • As many downloads from the Twitter campaign as their largest paid channel

Although Nike is a large company, the results of their campaign fascinating at any level. The last part is the most interesting: They received as many downloads from their social “experiment” as they did through their largest paid channel. The ROI was extraordinary.


It’s impossible to talk about the social landscape without bringing up Facebook. For mobile, Facebook can be incredibly important. For certain categories of apps (movies, TV, games, news, and others), connecting with Facebook drives a massive increase in revenue and engagement from users. Take a look at the data from some of the most popular apps who have integrated a Facebook log-in.


Facebook isn’t necessarily the best option for every app developer, but when it’s done well, it’s clear that integrating Facebook into your app can really improve your results.

Tell your own story

2Consumers generally surf and search for apps from within the App Store. As such, making sure that you’ve optimized your App Store presence is absolutely crucial. Getting discovered by a large audience of interested customers can be as simple as:

  • Selecting the right name
  • Investing in a compelling and memorable icon
  • Experimenting with categories and keywords, and
  • Testing and optimizing your app’s description (social proof in the description itself works wonders – take a look at the description that document signing app SignNow has crafted)

You must own your presence in the App Store and also make it another channel for telling your app’s story. Most app developers gloss over many of the important details that can affect downloads for an app. It’s important to not let the App Store tell your app’s story for you. If you do, you’ll be missing out on a large marketing opportunity.

The App Store is only one place to tell your story. Using your website and other channels to share why people use your app and what problems you’re solving is an increasingly powerful method of enabling app discovery, and it also makes your app seem more “human.”

Because apps are so exceptional at providing task-oriented solutions in small consumable packages, journalists and bloggers are actively searching for apps they can share with their audiences. The largest tech blogs and app review sites routinely drive as many installations as a feature in the App Store. Take the time to produce content and information that will appeal to journalists and share your story in enough detail that they’ll discover your app and want to learn more. For a great example, take a look at how the small team behind Chewsy has shared their unique take on restaurant and dish reviews with publications like Forbes. By sharing your story with these outlets, it’s likely that your downloads will increase.

Court your audience of fans from day one

3It should be clear that you want to own your story and tell it in the App Store and elsewhere. However, there is another, more powerful route – having your customers tell great stories about you. Not only is this personally gratifying (nothing’s better than hearing from a customer that you’ve developed something that delights them), but word of mouth is incredibly effective. Consumer studies continue to show that recommendations from the people we know are trusted the most for the average consumer.


Now, how do you get your fans to go tell their friends and say good things in public?

For many web businesses, this is an incredible challenge because there’s no centralized source for customers to share their thoughts. For mobile apps, that’s not the case – the App Stores give you a great venue for this in the form of the ratings and reviews sections.

But how do consumers get to the App Store to review your app? Despite the existence of easy opinion-sharing venues most customers don’t speak upIn factit appears that less than 0.1% of downloads result in a rating or review in the App Store. Most consumers need a nudge – a reminder that they can share their thoughts and opinions.

This is why you should be proactively connecting with your customers from day one. If your app has a returning audience, it means there are people who are a fan of what you’ve built. Those customers are highly likely to share their fandom with the world, if you make it easy for them to do so.

The wonderful thing about developing apps is that you can use them as a direct channel to talk with your customers. Reaching out to your biggest fans inside your app, and connecting more deeply with them is a powerful strategy for increasing customer loyalty and motivating a group of evangelists.

Connecting with your audience of fans certainly increases the number of customers leaving great reviews for your apps, but it’s about more than just reviews. It’s about the recognition that we walk around with our smartphones all day long.

When we take a look at our phone in a meeting or open it at dinner, we’re around others, introducing them to apps we love. By communicating closely with your customer base, you can massively change your awareness and download trajectory. We’ve talked with a number of developers who can map their adoption geographically. Word of mouth, in the real world, is a major inbound channel for mobile which every app developer can influence in a meaningful way.

Mobile: Growing fast but still in its infancy

Mobile is a term we’re all going to be hearing a lot over the next several years. As big and as fast as this opportunity is growing, the mobile apps industry is in its infancy and could benefit from the expertise that any great inbound marketer can bring to the table.

A simple and consistent focus on:

  • Being social
  • Telling your story effectively, and
  • Empowering your customers to share their stories about you

… will be certain to pay off in the long run.

When it comes to mobile apps, inbound marketing looks a lot like the industry we’ve all grown to love. Provide a tremendous amount of value for your target customers and reap the rewards of building customer acquisition channels that increase in efficiency over time.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Have you been utilizing your inbound marketing prowess for mobile apps? Which strategies are working for you? Did I miss any strategies which are incredibly effective? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Robi Ganguly is the CEO of Apptentive, the easiest way for every company with an app to talk with their customers. Follow him on Twitter at @rganguly or follow Apptentive at @apptentive. SEOmoz is not affil­i­ated with and has not reviewed this translation. SEO­moz pro­vides the Web’s best SEO tools and resources.
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Let your customers in on your secret sauce Mon, 10 Dec 2012 13:31:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

People will buy your stuff if they buy into you, so use transparency to your advantage

Target audience: Businesses, brands, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, agencies, general public.

Chris AbrahamFolks care more about how you made something than what you made. Well, not really. If what you made isn’t good, they won’t be interested in you at all. However, if you have a modicum of success, then folks will want to know as much about your culture, gear, tools, vision, operating principals, habits, and process as possible.

So, if you’re in business, you need to learn to make your organization as attractive as possible.

Let people know about your business’s personality, your narrative, why you matter, who you are in the community and your backstory

How, you ask? Well, the best way is to let them in on your process — your magic — and what makes your products and services special. And by special, I don’t mean the best price, the best quality, or the best service — though those are always top-winners — but also your personality, your unique narrative, the story of your existence, why you matter, what you’ve gone through, who you are in the community, or who you used to be.

I tell clients they need to give till it hurts when it comes to blogger outreach and online engagement. You need to offer the gift people want and not the gift you’re ready to give. You need to do the same thing when it comes to developing a cult of personality online.

All things being equal, people will buy your stuff if they buy into you. While word of mouth, referrals, and ratings are valuable, what do people see when they arrive at your site? Are you too corporate? Is your company a black box? How generous are you when it comes to the value-for-value?

Be transparent with your process and showcase your mastery

Back in the day, the very first company I knew about that did an amazing job of sharing the kitchen sink online — everything, to a painful level — was a Savile Row tailor by the name of Thomas Mahon who has had an amazing blog about the ins and out of making bespoke, handmade suits called English Cut.

It’s incredible how much of the shop he gave away: chalking, cutting, sewing, measuring, fabric selection, cut, fit, and finish. Honestly, he taught you everything about bespoke suit-making except actually teaching you how to make a suit.

We’re all so afraid of giving people a portal into what we’re doing with the mislaid assumption that everyone can, or even wants to, do the stuff you’ve already achieved mastery in. So, why keep the process so close to your vest?

In a post-recession America, more and more people are interested in investing their hard-earned dollars into people, into personal production, into innovation, and into a generous attitude. They want to have the utmost certainty that their money is going to the right folks: honorable men and women who have both the mad skills, the generosity of spirit, the responsiveness of service, and the transparency required to do long-term business with — to build a trusted relationship.

I used to be a professional photographer. I started off as a commercial shooter but ended up shooting for Corbis and Pacific Stock. Since real, professional, photographers are so rare, I was always being asked to speak. Nobody wants to be a photographer more than a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, or an accountant.

While I was always being invited to share my images in a slideshow, you know what? People suffered through my photography in order to ask me the questions they were more interested in: what equipment, film, f-stop, aperture, and ASA I used.

“What lens do you use?” folks would ask, or “Are you Nikon or Canon?,” or “Do you run Fuji 100 or Kodachrome?” Inspiration, the Muses, or innate talent don’t matter. What really matters is the quality of the glass in a lens, the depth of field or the point of focus, or the hours and quality of light during which one makes images.

It doesn’t really matter whether I felt severely insulted that all these amateur photogs fancied all of my “shooting for the best stock shop on the planet” success to be reducible to the camera bodies I chose (Nikon F4s and N90s), the lenses I picked (Nikkors: 20-35mm 2.8; 35-70mm 2.8; and 80-200mm 2.8), the bag I used (back Domke F-2), the film I favored (Fuji 100, Kodachrome 64, and Velvia 50 slide film — this was a long time ago), or the time I shot (the first and last hour of sunlight during the day).

Give away the shop to build trust and respect online

People are hungry, curious, and looking for a leader or confidant. Becoming a guru to folks online requires becoming a subject-matter expert. And if everyone online recognizes you as an expert, if folks incessantly share your good advice to their friends and followers, and if you’re willing to give away the shop to build trust and respect online, you’ll be able to not only sate the curiosity of the skeptical but you’ll also make sales, especially in an environment that lacks innate trust and respect (like SEO, social media marketing and digital PR — yeah, what we do).

So why don’t you take some time to realize and recognize a couple of truths: Folks want to know more about you, folks really want to like you, folks would love it if you engaged with them, folks really want to know how and why you’re successful, and folks really want to know that if they give you money you’ll be able to give them something back of equal or greater value.

What will you do right now, after reading this article, to better connect and engage with your natural allies and future customers? How will you earn their respect and build their trust? How will you woo them and impress them with your amazing abilities to cut wool and tool leather in such a way that they’ll want to be your customer for life?

OK, now do it. I dare you.

Le Web day 1: End of day show report Thu, 10 Dec 2009 00:12:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

David SparkHere’s my end of day show report for Le Web, the Web 2.0 conference in Paris. I’ve been in Paris for the week reporting with the Traveling Geeks (watch video of us on a train). Watch the video for a quick summary of the companies I saw, plus a quick story at the end about an outbreak Robert Scoble had at the expense of the French entrepreneurs.

Companies and links mentioned in the video.

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How Dell handles customer service and sales through social media Wed, 09 Dec 2009 16:46:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

David SparkAt the Le Web conference in Paris, I spoke with Richard Binhammer, better known as @RichardATDell on Twitter. Three years ago Richard, who was and still is working in public affairs, was told by his boss to start getting engaged in blogger relations. It appears that Binhammer’s move into social media was one of the many responses to the 2005 Dell Hell outburst initiated by social media consultant Jeff Jarvis, who wrote an open letter to Dell complaining about Dell’s customer service. At the time, Dell’s response was, “We don’t respond to bloggers.”

It took this dramatic situation to shake Dell up, but they finally did respond a year later with a full social media presence that’s been valuable for customer service and promoting sales. Binhammer said that Dell’s use of Twitter is responsible for $6.5 million in sales worldwide.

In the video I gave Binhammer a little bit of a hard time regarding his minimal opinion on the HP situation I had that I published here before (“Why I love public transportation and hate HP” and HP’s response). Granted, I caught him off guard and didn’t tell him the full story, but I was looking for a more concrete answer to the procedure on how he’d go around handling a single complaint like mine from someone who is established online. Off camera we talked more about how every incident is different. And I agree, there isn’t one pat answer, but there are procedures to handle things and I’m still eager to know more about Dell’s procedure.

Does your company have procedures on handling negative conversation in the social media space? If so, let us know. What procedures work? What don’t work? Eager for a discussion.

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HP responds to ‘Why I love public transportation and hate HP’ Fri, 20 Nov 2009 01:07:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

David SparkAt the beginning of November I wrote an article titled Why I love public transportation and hate HP after a horrible customer service experience with HP where I had to wait two hours for technical service after I had paid for their tier 2 service. I compared it to public transportation in San Francisco because now we have transponders on our buses letting us know how long we’ll have to wait. That information is very valuable, allowing us to make a decision on how to proceed. Should I wait, take another bus, or hail a cab?

While I like HP products and the actual service was excellent, the wait angered me so much that it has irreparably damaged my opinion of the HP brand. I was contacted by two people at HP and spoke to one of them on the phone off the record. I wanted something on the record that I could print here, so I sent two questions for which the HP representative said he would get an “on the  record” response. After a week and a half, here are the responses to my two questions from Jodi Schilling, Vice President, HP Global Customer Support Operations for the Americas. I reserve my opinions and follow-up questions for you readers until after you read the responses.

My Q&A with HP

David: What is HP doing to educate customers about their wait time online for customer service/technical support? I don’t want to know that on average you answer tech questions in 10 minutes. I want to know how someone who either gets stuck online for a while can figure out what’s happening so they can make an educated decision. For example, when I look at the Muni wait time and it says 45 minutes for the next bus, I know I should take an alternate route. If I know I’m going to be waiting for two hours on hold, I know to take an alternate route.

HP’s response: HP’s focus has been to answer all calls in a timely manner, and we typically do so in 2 minutes or less. In your particular case, it appeared to have been during a time period of unusual and extremely high call volume and we are currently increasing our staffing to ensure minimal hold times. It also looked as if you were transferred twice, which added to the wait time, unfortunately. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.

Thank you for your suggestion about the wait time notification system. Although HP currently does not have a system like this in place, we may consider adding one in the future. With the volume of calls coming into HP and being routed to multiple call center locations, estimating hold times is no easy task. The length of technical support calls can also vary widely depending on the issues being discussed and the level of technical expertise of the customer, so providing accurate estimates would be a challenge.

David: Is the official complaint line How are people supposed to know that? Is there a phone number people can call? You said that hundreds of thousands of people send emails, but I’m sure plenty more would if they knew that. Have you done some type of PR campaign to promote that email address? I know that if I click on a couple of screens and scroll to the bottom I can find that, but really, who would know?

Mark HurdHP’s response: Customers are asked for feedback on their support experience after nearly every support interaction, either by phone, on the HP Customer Care site, or following support chats and via email. We greatly value customer feedback and take action on it whenever feasible. If customers have specific complaints, they are encouraged to submit them online here. (Note: This is a form to “email HP CEO Mark Hurd [pictured at right] your suggestions and complaints.”)

My take on HP’s response

While I appreciate HP reaching out to me, I wasn’t that impressed with their response.

1. They’re very sorry about my two hour wait, yet they took a week and a half to answer my two questions. That doesn’t jibe.

2. How is anyone supposed to know about that Mark Hurd customer service page? They didn’t answer that part of the question. The only reason I knew about it and asked about it was because the person who contacted me off the record had told me about it. Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought to contact the CEO of HP. Outside of my providing the link here, how would any of you know to make that connection and contact him?

Also, this strikes me as a completely bogus customer service offering. They’re telling us to email Mark Hurd, and yet I’m sure he’s not reading nor responding to any of those emails. I don’t need to talk to Mark Hurd. I just need to talk to someone who will consider my question and respond accordingly, which I’m sure is what happens.

But why say, “Email Mark Hurd your complaint”? What kind of bogus non-authentic relationship does HP want to create with us? Why would they set up something like that? I take that customer service page the same way as McDonald’s telling me to email all my complaints to Mayor McCheese. How can I possibly take it seriously?

What companies have a good customer service wait experience?

I do recognize that it’s not easy to calculate the customer service wait time, but I know companies have done it before. I honestly can’t remember which companies. So, I put the questions out to readers:

What large company has a good phone customer service experience? Which ones inform you what your wait time will be? Which ones let you know the number of people who are ahead of you in the queue? Do any others provide a good experience? I remember Microsoft used to have a radio station providing lots of information. Do they still do that?

I’m looking for tips and advice that we can all share to improve the customer wait experience. If it’s going to have to be a two-hour wait, what can we do to inform people about that, or provide a faster response through some other means?

Creative Commons image by A30_Tsitika on Flickr.

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Why I love public transportation and hate HP Tue, 03 Nov 2009 05:49:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Public transportation. Source: George L. Smythe

David SparkWe all complain about public transportation. It’s slow. It’s crowded. It’s delayed. It’s boring. Public transportation can be miserable, but for me it’s not anymore. It’s not because San Francisco MUNI and BART got any cleaner or faster, but because they provided me with some information. They told me when the next bus is coming.

Using the NextMUNI or the service, I can find information about when to expect the next bus. While it may be very costly or impossible to make trains and buses move faster, by letting me know where they are and then calculating an estimated wait time, it provides me with information to plan accordingly. I could take another bus line or grab a coffee and wait somewhere a little more comfortable than a bus stop. I actually enjoy taking public transportation because it gives me a chance to listen and watch podcasts on my iPod.

Restaurants do this as well when you put in a reservation. If they say 10 minutes before you’re seated, you’ll wait. If they say an hour, you’ll move on to another restaurant. By providing that little bit of information, restaurants are delivering great customer service. They’re empowering the customer with information to make an informed decision. They’re not leaving them in the dark.

If you can’t deliver service quickly, you have to let them know when you’re going to deliver it

I recently had a technical issue with my HP computer. I contacted HP, paid $59 for tier 2 level service, and then proceeded to wait a total of TWO HOURS for a technician. I was never informed as to when I would be connected to a technician. I simply listened to the same recording repeat itself over and over for TWO HOURS.

During that time I called in on a second line trying to connect with someone on the routing system to give me some information. Nobody knew. I desperately asked them to connect me with a manager. They said they would, but didn’t. Everyone just connected me to the same line that I sat on for two hours. The battery on my phone was draining. I didn’t know if I’d have enough for my tech call once it finally connected. I went to the website and tried to connect with someone in online chat, but their chat system was completely broken.

Over that two hours I had built up an anger toward HP that I don’t think I’ve ever built up toward a brand in my life. If there was a way to stick my hand through the phone and punch someone, I would have. I was that angry.

I’ve been on phone systems before that inform you of your wait time the second they put you in queue. It’s very valuable. It allows me to make a decision as to what I’d like to do. I can stay on the line or hang up. Without timing information, you’re placing the customer in the dark. It’s like not knowing when the next bus is coming.

When I was finally connected the tech support person, he solved my issue. The service was great. But the two-hour wait irrevocably tarnished the great service.

Overbooking and canceling appointments

I’ve had similar experiences with Sears refrigerator repair, which consistently canceled appointments because they were overbooking their technicians. Three times I booked appointments that were canceled at the last minute. I waited for someone to show up who never showed up. Once the technician did show up, he was professional and did excellent work.

Sears doesn’t seem to consider the booking of technicians as part of their customer service as evidenced by their follow-up survey email, which didn’t ask a single question regarding the timeliness of the technician. They did ask me questions about his appearance, though.

Put transponders on your service

If San Francisco can make me love public transportation simply by putting transponders on their vehicles, how hard is it for you to place some type of beacon on your customer service system to just inform customers as to when they’ll receive service?

]]> 3 Personal finance made easy Thu, 17 Sep 2009 17:05:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The magic behind from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaThe breakout success story in the online personal finance sector during 2009 has been The site allows you to track your spending and saving habits by automatically uploading statements from your banks and credit accounts and generating reports that show where the money is going.

On Monday came the news that software giant Intuit purchased for $170 million. With 1.5 million users, Mint makes it fun and easy for people to manage their finances in the cloud. There’s even an elegant Mint app for the iPhone.

I arranged to interview CEO Aaron Patzer at the recent Fortune Brainstorm:Tech conference in Pasadena. We ducked out of the noisy conference to an outdoor patio, so you’ll hear a fountain in the background.

Aaron discusses Mint’s main features, its growing popularity, and the site’s social media features. He’s no doubt quite rich as a result of Monday’s sale.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo


In Buying Mint, Intuit Looks to Revitalize (BusinessWeek)

On the lighter side at CES Mon, 12 Jan 2009 02:38:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A funny moment

Some of these "messages" to Steve Ballmer, shown at the start of his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday night, cracked me up. (Yes, I know they were written by Microsoft’s marketing team. Doesn’t matter.)

From: Jerry Yang
Steve. Why do you keep ignoring my Facebook requests?

From: Rod Blagojevich
How do you delete email that’s already been sent?

From: Barack Obama
AirforceOne needs an XBOX. Hint, Hint.