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Wouldn’t it be great…

Yes, Steve is just a mere mortal. Thanks, Gil, for the video link.

Apologies, ranked

Yehuda shares this list with us:

There are many incorrect ways to formulate an apology, but only a few correct ones.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is best:

  • "You can always take your business elsewhere." (1): Thank you, I will, and so will all of my friends.
  • "It’s not our fault." (2): This is a non-apology, where you are not seeking to redress the issue, nor evincing any sort of sympathy for the injured.
  • "We’re sorry that you feel that way." (3): This is also a non-apology, which roughly translates into "It pisses us off that you feel that way. If you didn’t feel that way, we would be happy." It also doesn’t take any responsibility for the problem, and places all of it onto the injured party. Be careful of any apology that starts "I’m sorry that you…"
  • "We’re sorry if we did something wrong." (6): This is getting there, but doesn’t really accept responsibility either. You are not acknowledging that you did anything wrong; you’re still hoping that you haven’t. You are offering an apology for appearances sake.
  • "We’re sorry that this occurred." (7): You are sorry, but as a matter of principle you’re still trying to insist that it wasn’t really your fault.
  • "We’re sorry that we caused this problem." or "We’re sorry that we have let this happen." (9): This is a full apology, and is what the customer needs to hear. Frankly, it doesn’t matter that it was really the post office’s fault, and not yours; the customer doesn’t care. Most people hearing this cannot help but respond with some sort of graciousness, such as "Well, all right then, these things happen. What are you going to do to fix it?" This is the target level that you want to hit for your customer service. But for the record, there is still one level to go. The complete apology is:
  • "We’re so sorry that we caused this problem; we are really distressed over this. Please know that we take this very seriously. This is a huge oversight on our part. I will immediately notify my supervisor, and we will review our procedures to ensure that this cannot happen again. In the meantime, that is no consolation to you for our lack of service! What can we do to regain your trust? We will be sending you a little surprise as a token of our appreciation of having you as a customer." (10) In truth, this little speech goes on until the customer interrupts. And it is followed by a few more apologies as the conversation closes, as well.

Meaningless to two decimal places

The Compete Attention 200™ is a ranking of 200 sites based on time spent. UPS, for example, ranks way higher than Fedex, and MySpace is number one.

This is just silly.

Any website that attempts to improve time spent on every page (or pageviews for that matter) is just wasting time. What matters is intent. Permission. Action. Retention. Likelihood that ideas get spread. Clickthroughs.

Just because we can measure it doesn’t mean it’s important. Anyone want to buy stock in the globe.com?

Measuring stiffness

Young’s modulus is a measurement of stiffness. I’m pretty sure they mean the stiffness of various materials, like steel or wool, but wouldn’t it be great if we could apply this measurement to people and their organizations?

Some industries have a very high modulus. They resist new ideas and go so far as to expunge new thinkers from their midst. Others have a low modulus, they flop from new thing to new thing, never sticking it out long enough to actually get somewhere.

We’ve all been on sales calls where the very presence of a conference room and a salesperson means that the prospect’s Young’s modulus has been dramatically raised. Just walking into the room increases her stiffness.

Stiffness, as any willow tree can tell you, is not always a good thing. Excessive stiffness can lead to brittleness, to missing the boat because you’re just plain stubborn. At the other extreme, those with way too low a modulus just end up doing whatever the group is into in this minute.

What can you do with this useful measurement? I think the marketing approach you take has to reflect the modulus of the person you’re marketing to. Selling a new pop record takes a lot less persistence than getting a Fortune 500 company to change its insurance carrier.

More interesting, though, is the internal opportunity. If the organization you work for is too stiff, you can change it. First, by talking about it. By measuring it. By pointing out how long it takes you to adopt a new technology, or how many sales calls it takes for you to adopt something great. After a while, the people with good ideas get the message and they stop showing up.


So, in the NFL, if the coach thinks the ref made a bad call, he can take a risk. He bets a time out and the refs review the tape. If the call was correct, the coach loses the time out. If the call was wrong, he gets it fixed.

You know what’s wrong with this system? The referees never apologize. They don’t say, "Upon reviewing the tape, we realized that we made a bad call. We’re really sorry." In fact, in addition to saying they’re sorry, they ought to give the coach a bonus time out as a way of rewarding him for his troubles.

If it’s hard to say you’re sorry when it’s your fault and when there is no money at stake, imagine how hard it is to say you’re sorry when neither is true.

And yet, if reading the constant stream of horrible customer service stories that cross my desk every day, that’s all anyone wants. A bonus time out, an apology and making it right. It is certainly, without any question at all, the cheapest marketing technique available today. Not to mention one that feels good in the long run. I wrote about this a bit in September, but it’s worth a refocus here.

But is an apology sincere?

Well, I can’t imagine how the following sentence could be false if uttered by anyone with a conscience, "I’m really sorry about the way you feel. We work really hard and do our best to avoid problems like this, but it’s obvious you feel mistreated and I want to fix it. I’m really sorry about all this."

It’s cheap, it works, and it’s the right thing. So why not do it?*

Ego, power and fear. Three lousy reasons. Time to get over it, come clean and grow.

*The big company readers say, "we have too many people to apologize to" to which I share this note from the founder of Mozy after some wide-scale screw ups:

As some of you may have noticed, the month of December and early
January was a challenging time for us. We were overwhelmed by the
demand for the Mozy backup service, and had a difficult time keeping
up. […]

So, to try and make up for the problems we’ve
experienced, and to thank you for hanging in there, we like to offer
you the follow options:

If you had a really frustrating experience, click here to get 3 months free service added to your account.

If you hit some glitches, but everything mostly worked out for you, click here to get 2 months free service added to your account.

If things went just fine this last month, click here to get 1 month free service added to your account.

But if you’d rather just let us know you’re doing okay and you don’t need the extra month of free service, click here to let us know.

you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to email me
personally. We’re here to protect your data – and we thank you for
hanging in there during our growing pains.

Founder, CEO
Mozy.com, Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.

Gil lost his cell phone

I lose mine all the time. You probably do too.

So here’s my idea. And I don’t even want to wait to patent it and license it… you should just build it.

It’s two credit card sized devices. One goes in my wallet. The other is taped to the back of my phone (or ipod).

Whenever they get more than thirty feet apart, they both start whistling like banshees.

Is this hard? I don’t think it is. I’d buy one. I’d even pay extra to have it built into the phone itself.

Understanding the Super Bowl

It’s hard to remember back 23 years ago, but back then, when dinosaurs walked the earth, a few things were true:

1. commercials were commercials–they sold stuff
2. content was content–it wasn’t filled with commercials (check out this tennis tournament via Patricia: not a billboard in sight).

The Apple ad changed everything. It was now commercial as content, commercial as event. The Apple ad was seen by more people after the game via free media than saw it during the game itself.

So, as you waste an evening watching television, understand that the media game you’re watching (as opposed to the football game) is not about selling anything per se. Instead, it’s about creating a short little movie that spreads. Yes, it’s permission marketing. Permission marketing because viewers are asking for the ads, they want the ads, they look forward to them. BUT, we’re not watching them because we want to buy or even to learn (the way, say, Google ads work). We’re watching because we want to be in on the joke, to have something to share. It’s big enough that there are entire web pages about the commercials. I’ll be contributing to the one at Adweek, at least until I get too bored with the game…

The commercial aspect of this is fascinating as well. Who wins? Probably not the shareholders. Someone at Frito Lay told me that they can prove that enough people buy chips during halftime (they leave their house and race out to the store) that the ads pay for themselves. But insurance?

The winners, I think, are the agencies and the pundits and those that would like advertising to be more than it actually is.


Lots of mail about the Aqua Teen guerrilla marketing Boston thing.

More than ten years ago, I co-wrote four of the Guerrilla Marketing books. At the time, Jay Levinson and I were focused at helping small businesses break out of the helpless rut of leaving advertising to the big guys. There were plenty of niches where smaller organizations could really thrive without becoming pariahs in their community.

It hasn’t taken long for the game to be totally rebuilt.

In the face of high ad rates and stunningly low effectiveness, many advertisers are getting selfish and angry. Rather than investing the money they would have spent on ads into products and services, they’re just running more invasive ads. Even in this picture of one of the Aqua Teen guerrillas we see a logo and an ad… in fact, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere or do anything without seeing an ad.

Try to imagine a TV executive in 1972 or 1985 explaining that the nationwide rollout of a new TV show would involve battery-operated LiteBrite boxes with an offensive little sprite icon on them… inconceivable. Today, it’s not only not surprising, it’s predictable.

So, what am I cynical about? I’m cynical that anyone is going to be able to do anything to stop it. That any government organization or any group of consumers is going to be effective in stopping the tsunami (and I don’t use the word lightly) of unanticipated, impersonal and irrelevant spam that fills our lives. I have no idea if Boston should have spent half a million dollars on this problem, or if the population should have freaked out in fear. I do know that whatever they do isn’t going to change the way marketers do (what they erroneously think is) their jobs. There’s just too much money on the table.

My hopeful side says that marketers should start taking responsibility for what we do, and start marketing to people the way we’d like to be marketed to. The cynical side of me realizes that this isn’t bloody likely.

The only thing that will make it go away is when it ceases to work.

Setting expectations

Robin shares this story:

In January I took my Subaru Outback to the dealer for an oil change, new battery etc.  The last time I took it in I picked up a freshly washed car, it was a new free service they offered.

Cool I thought.  But noticed the dashboard was still quite dusty.  OK maybe I’m being petty but if you’re going to go to the trouble of washing the customers car then a 2 second wipe of a dusty dashboard would make the job 100% and not "half assed". They also started giving a follow up phone call to make sure customers were happy with the service.

I wondered if they would wash my car this time, I assumed not. Not in January, too cold.  I was right, the car was not washed when I picked it up. I understood.

But the next day I did get the follow up phone call.  I said I was happy with the service, but asked what was included in the "oil change".  Did they usually check the other fluids, tires etc.?

Yes, a 30 point inspection was always included, all fluids, tires, lights, everything (more accurately 30 things).  I mentioned that after my "30 point inspection" my windshield washer was still bone dry and one front tire was still visibly low.  "Well I guess we messed up" was the response "I’ll have Paul call you back so we can make it right".

Well that was Monday, today is Friday and I’m still waiting for the call back.

I guess my point is that if they hadn’t washed my car the first time, and hadn’t phoned me to see if I was happy with the service I would have more impressed than I am now.

To raise someone’s expectations then not fulfill them is worse than mediocrity.

Teaching customers a lesson

Mark points us to: idaho-hum.com.

The comments are a hoot, but the useful point is that there are no circumstances where sending a customer a note like this is a good idea:

I  am the manager of all of Customer Service. There is no one higher than me that you will speak with. You violated our policy, which is, despite what you say, completely clear. No one is holding anything hostage. Your e-mails have been completely deleted, and no amount of money can now restore them.

A common mistake marketers make is believing that there is perfect information between consumers. That when the seventh person in a row asks you a dumb question you should raise your voice, because obviously he didn’t hear you the first six times you answered it. Never mind that those were other people.