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Big Ideas (Meatball Mondae 11)

In a factory-based organization, little ideas are the key to success. Small improvements in efficiency or design can improve productivity and make a product just a bit more appealing. New Marketing, which exists in the noisy marketplace, demands something bigger. It demands ideas that force people to sit up and take notice.

At the same time that we see how game-changing ideas (like the iPhone) can trump little improvements, we’re also noting the end of the “big idea” in advertising.

There’s a difference between a big idea that comes from a product or service and a big idea that comes from the world of advertising.

The secret of big-time advertising during the 1960s and ’70s was the “big idea.” In A Big Life in Advertising, ad legend Mary Wells Lawrence writes, “… our goal was to have big, breakthrough ideas, not just to do good advertising. I wanted to create miracles.” A big idea could build a brand, a career, or an entire agency.

Charlie the Tuna was a big idea. So was “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.”

Big ideas in advertising worked great when advertising was in charge. With a limited amount of spectrum and a lot of hungry consumers, the stage was set to put on a show. And the better the show, the bigger the punchline, the more profit could be made.

Today, the advertiser’s big idea doesn’t travel very well. Instead, the idea must be embedded into the experience of the product itself. Once again, what we used to think of as advertising or marketing is pushed deeper into the organization. Let the brilliant ad guys hang out with your R&D team and watch what happens.

Yes, there are big ideas. They’re just not advertising-based.

The whole series is here.

Thanks for calling, please go away

Most customer service organizations are architected around a simple idea: interacting with customers is expensive, driving costs down is a good thing, thus getting people to go away is beneficial.

Think about it: most inbound customer service people are rewarded for on-phone efficiency. Calls per hour. Lack of escalations. Limited complaints. What’s the best way to do that? Get people to go away.

If you’re on this system and a long-time customer calls in with a complicated problem, one that’s going to require supervisor intervention and follow up, what’s your best plan? Is it to spend an hour with this person over three days, or is the system designed to have you politely get them to just give up?

I’d focus on building a system that measures [sales rate before call] vs. [sales rate after call]. If the sales rate goes up, give the call center person a raise. It’s that simple.

Paypal seized the money in my account on Friday. After seven years as a user, they decided my new DVD project was suspiciously successful and it triggered all sorts of alarms. The first step was a call from them… a cheerful person asked me a few questions and all seemed fine. Then, with no warning, they escalated the process. The system they put me in treated me like a criminal and at every step they made it difficult for me to keep going. Phone calls were made, and I spoke with two incredibly friendly people who were clearly unable to do anything other than be friendly. Both people were happy to talk to me for as long as I wanted, but neither person was able to do anything at all. The system is clearly designed this way… to insulate the people who make decisions from the actual customers. The desired outcome (I go away) doesn’t seem like it’s aligned with the corporate goals (I stick around).

The question I’d be asking is, "Do people who go through process and manage to prove that they are not criminals end up doing more business with us as a result of the way we treated them?" If the answer is no, you’re probably doing it wrong.

The last straw was this: After I put together all the documents they wanted (including a copy of my passport) and created a PDF, I tried to upload it. They don’t take PDFs, the alert box said, just JPGs. So I sent the images and get this notice:

I followed up with the email address on the screen and got an email back, informing me that the email I had mailed to at PayPal wasn’t monitored.


[PS in the ninety minutes after I posted this, I heard from a slew of people. Guess what? Every single one had a Paypal horror story to share. Once you teach an entire organization to mistreat customers, it’s hard to fix.]

[PPS the problem is fixed now. Thanks for your concern…]


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