Friday, July 16, 2010

Apple's iPhone 4 antenna response: a PR model for crisis

Have you watched Apple’s press release about the iPhone 4’s antenna issues?  Apple, the company widely revered by its passionate customer base for its innovative products, has also been known for its hubris and occasional PR trip ups.  With all the hype around the incredibly successful launch of iPhone 4, there has been an abundance of press around problems with the phone’s antenna.  Gotta love it when media companies ride the coat tails of highly popular products and tear them down as a means to generate press.

This time Steve Jobs and Apple fought back and did a great job!  As I watched, I noted the structure and response to the current public outcry.  Steve Jobs took the opportunity to turn what’s been a PR nightmare and turn it into a promotion for what’s been done with the phone and how it compares to previous generation iPhones and other popular smart phones.  This is basically the outline of what he said:
     •    This is the hard data / These are the facts (they ultimately said there is an issue but its tiny)
     •    We love our users
     •    This is what we’ve done in development and design and the resources we’ve put into this product (spent millions of dollars and have lots of PHDs on staff)
     •    Acknowledged the  problem
         o    Problem is inherent in all smartphones
         o    We will continue to work on this issue
     •    We are being completely transparent (acknowledging these problems)
     •    Put the scope of the problem in perspective with competitive products and previous gen iPhones (the iPhone’s  antenna issues is virtually the same as all other phones)
     •    These are the actions we are taking to address the issue (we want EVERYONE to be happy)

It was clearly a carefully engineered response but my impression was that they nailed it! 

This framework can serve as a model for many other situations when companies need to respond to a crisis.  Take note, BP!  If there’s an issue, acknowledge it.  Provide the facts.  Promote what you’ve done.  Explain what you will do.  Tell your customers you love them.  Sounds like a fairly simple communication plan.

While I was at we received an onslaught of criticism and accusations that ranged from misleading pricing structures to our CEO having ties to organized crime to SEC investigations.  We didn’t respond to all of them because doing so would have helped fuel the critique and given validity to those voices.  In the ones we did respond to we fell short of this model and (perhaps) as a result, had less than stellar success. 

Ultimately, you hope you don’t come across a crisis our public outcry where you need to respond.  But, when you’re pushing the edge, beating the competition, or have huge success or failure, critiques are bound to arise.  Hopefully this helps when that time comes.

To watch apple's video, click here .

Monday, July 12, 2010

Social Media Framework

Whether they are in a typical brick and mortar business or some virtual world in the cloud, good entrepreneurs recognize the power and potential of social medial tools.  They facilitate interaction with your business's audience, are very inexpensive if not free, provide trackable information, allow "enthusiasts" to pass along their passion for your company, and can virally promote your product or service.

My challenge has not been whether to use social media or not but rather, which outlets to use.  More vehicles come up every day, across so many different segments.  At, I came across the below framework that someone has created.  See the original version here.  I think it does a great job of outlining the various social media services for what you want to do.

Are there any you use that aren't on here?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Customer Service Gone Bad

It was an odd phone number from Nebraska that wasn’t listed in my phone.  I racked my head trying to figure out who it could be that was calling me; was it someone whom I had recently met and given my number to?  I wasn’t in a spot to take the call and they didn’t leave a message so I was left to wonder.  It was a mild annoyance but I was in the middle of a short vacation and quickly moved on to other things.

It wasn’t until I got back that I decided to do some quick internet sleuthing to see who this mystery caller had been.  Maybe I’d gotten lucky and won the lottery…in Omaha?  I did a quick Google of the number and the answer surprised me.  It turns out that many people had been receiving calls from the same number; Omaha Steaks (OS).  There’s a whole list of frustrated (ex)customers here.  A few months ago I placed an order from them for a Father’s Day gift and now I was receiving calls from them.

The thing is, this company is trying to do the right thing but doing it all wrong.  It would be much better off had they not tried in the first place.  Most businesses that want to stay around implement some form customer service outreach.  It’s a good way to stay engaged with customers, solicit feedback and hopefully, gain additional sales.  After all, previous customers are the best source of future sales since they’ve already discovered your company and expressed an interest in your product/service.

So what is OS doing wrong?  By not leaving a message they are coming across as, well, quite frankly, dirty.  Assuming they absolutely feel its imperative to speak with someone live, all they have to do is say “Hi this is Omaha Steaks calling.  Sorry we missed you.  We’re calling because you’ve previously done business with us and want to let you know about a current promotion we’re running.  We’ll try back again soon and hope to catch you at a more convenient time.  Until then, keep those BBQ’s fired up!”  I would have been much happier to receive that but instead, got nothing.

I called OS’s customer service and spoke to a friendly lady named Robin.  She explained that my call would have come from one of their Outbound Call Specialists and that they don’t ever leave a message.  “They’ll keep calling every couple of weeks,” she explained, “unless you’d like me to take you off our calling list.”  Well, there you go! 

I’d like to praise them for offering to take me off their calling list…but I just can’t.  Clearly it’s been an issue for many customers and that’s how OS is addressing it.  Rather than provide quality, helpful customer service, essentially, they are volunteering to stop talking with customers.  According to the company’s web site OS has been around since 1917 and opened a telemarketing facility in 1999.  Presumably that’s where my call originated from.  Someone should tell this family run business that “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t the best way to keep doing it.      

Omaha Steaks represents itself as a high quality meat company but calling customers and not leaving a message does not support that.  Ultimately, this gets to the idea that EVERY touch point you have with current and potential customers is a reflection of your brand.  In this case, OS’s actions are misaligned with the brand identity they are trying to create.  But that’s a conversation for another time.  Until then, stay focused on delivering QUALTY customer service that WOWs people.  If you have any similar stories, please share the lesson!

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