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The women going to work!Driving to work this morning I snapped this pic. I realise its not a great one, blame Blackberry not me (as a complete aside, how do you manage to put a measly 1.3 megapixel camera in your phone guys? Honestly! But when you’re capable of stuff like this, a lousy camera should be of no surprise…). Anyway…the car in front was advertising a female house-painting service called Women @ Work Painting. “98.5% testosterone free” apparently – whether they’re being cute or that is level of testosterone in the average woman I don’t know.

The service was apparently born out of bad experiences with trades people, they promise four things:

  • turn up on time
  • work on consecutive days
  • complete job by the due date
  • clean up after ourselves

This may be a generational thing, but I don’t give myself over to gender stereotypes. If they can actually guarantee that level of service, if any business could guarantee that level of service, then they would have me as a customer. I should add I don’t quite get the “work on consecutive days” part, I can only assume other tradies out there will spread jobs out and work on multiple houses at once, frustrating the clients they have in some cases.

The only thing I’m thinking on top of this though is if a business went around branding itself as “98.5% estrogen free”, I don’t know how well that would play…reminds me of a billboard I saw a couple years back, a massive rare steak on a plate and a tagline: Brisbane’s worst vegetarian restaurant.

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Oh for simpler days, days when a single phone charge lasted the best part of a week before needing to plug it in again, before ring-tones and the need to update an OS because of a memory leak which manifests itself by deleting my call lists and text messages. I went to the Blackberry website to get information on upgrading the OS, only to find the link to the Software page entirely in French.

I clicked skip intro on the flash landing page for the recently announced Bold, and then software down in the footer, which brought up this.

What is French for \"Do not want\"?
Now, I’m actually learning French at the moment, so either my teacher has conspired with Research-In-Motion on account of me never doing my homework, or this is one single epic fail.

I’m going with the latter…

I read two unrelated posts this morning which both said the same thing; the generation of children who aren’t yet teenagers have an interesting relationship with and approach to communication.

The first was from Fred Wilson who was after a new phone for his daughter to replace a broken iPhone. Funnily enough, she didn’t want it replaced with an iPhone, 2007’s must have toy.

She wants the new crimson red Blackberry Curve.

Fortunately, it looks like I can get an unlocked one on eBay for between $100 and $200.

I wonder what this says? I realize it’s a sample size of one, but I’ve heard that a bunch of her friends have also given up their iPhones in search of a better texting device which seems to be the one feature they value most.

The second was from Simon Chen who said exactly the same thing:

Ask a teenager to give up their mobile phone and see what happens. Actually, I bet if you told any kid today that the new rule of the house is their phones would be restricted to voice calls only (and that the text or SMS function would be disabled), there would be a global revolt. Parents would be locked in cars and basements and all manner of threats would be shouted from every rooftop.

Kids don’t talk on phones anymore. They grunt. But the little f@#ckers can text. Man, can they text.

I am loathe to carry out a conversation via text, I flat out refuse and don’t respond, or else I call if it is really important*. But I’ve seen this behaviour in my younger cousins, and being somewhat pedantic about grammar and punctuation, have certainly seen it carried out in the way sentences are constructed – or rather abbreviated into forms that begin to border on unrecognisable.

With this in mind, I’ve begun thinking aloud (and with no real clarity yet) about what this means for the way the next generation will communicate, particularly how they will expected to be communicated to and how this will impact their interactions with the rest of the world.

For example, is it reasonable to expect “correct” grammar to be taught if it ceases to apply to their daily lives the way it does to mine? Will an essay in SMS or l33t speak be admissable in new communications courses once they at university? More applicable to me, how does that change the nature of text in ads? How do you affect the tone of a piece if not just punctuation but vowels themselves cease to play a part? Srlsy?

I’d dismiss the above as nonsense, except I already see my own generation with hard and fast mind sets on certain things nobody had to teach us, we just knew. The notion of respecting someone because of their title never even entered our minds; what do I take for granted that the next batch won’t bat an eyelid at?

The changing nature of communication is something I find endlessly interesting, even if there are no easy answers.

*Things that are important:

  1. A guitar I simply must have
  2. The girl I’m seeing accidentally meeting the girl I’m seeing
  3. Confusion over which bar we will begin the evening’s festivities in
  4. A Springsteen tour being announced
  5. More as I think of them…

Long time listeners-first time callers may recall my recent troubles with Vodafone, mobile carrier to the masses starved for choice. I had come to regard their Australian operations with such apathy I barely had the energy to add a condescending tone to my voice when speaking about them, content to let the name ring out with a monotonous drawl and slide away into delicate traces of nothingness (much like their service). I was utterly flabbergasted when I had posted my lament to better days one evening, only to find a comment from an employee the next, wanting to help. The gesture was tempered in the ensuing days by the fact that, somehow, he worked for the UK division yet still managed to locate me while Vodafone Australia played solitaire in the back room of whatever faceless warehouse they stowed away in this week. How could Vodafone UK become aware of my problem and Australia remain blissfully ignorant?

The details of the ensuing days don’t really bear repeating. I eventually had my phone replaced, though I wound up spending almost three hours on hold to get a handset repaired that I had taken insurance out on months ago. All manner of incompetence was displayed, until the final straw came along when a lovely lady called Casey told me she would need to request the paper work from the store to take a look at my initial request for insurance on the handset. I calmly told Casey I understood the process they needed to follow, but I also explained I had been a loyal customer for five years (I have spent thousands with them) and if this was not resolved satisfactorily I would be taking my business elsewhere.

The call ended, but five minutes later she called back, saying the issues were resolved and I could organise a replacement with their insurance department. I was transferred, my call answered immediately and told I could collect a replacement handset from any Vodafone store.

I’m going to go double-time on this for the viewers playing at home; you should not have to threaten to take your business elsewhere in order to achieve good customer service! All I wanted was for Vodafone to acknowledge their mistake and replace the handset. It took weeks to resolve, hours of my time sent on hold, and an outcome arrived at solely due to me being unwilling to accept the situation as the company presented it. So, a few lessons for all the corporations out there, regardless of the space you’re in:

1. You need advocates for consumers inside your companies

If every person you employ is hell bent on justifying a bottom line, you will lose sight of your audience, cease to be relevant, and fade out of existence. Casey, while simply doing her job, at least understood my plight and went after a resolution internally after our conversation. Companies need people on the inside who are passionate about the consumer experience and not focussed on what it means from within the naive point of view of an operational cost. Vodafone’s loss here is a single handset, versus the hundreds of dollars I spend with them a month. You don’t need an M.B.A. to do the math there.

2 . Customer service is the new marketing

This is not a new idea, but I’m amazed at how few people actually get it. Good customer service is priceless. These people should not be paid poorly, stuck in a corner to deal with complaints every day until they have had enough and quit or leap off a bridge. They should be applauded and celebrated as the front line in the ongoing battle in an increasingly competitive space for eyeballs. These people should be empowered to make decisions based not on profitability, but on a mantra of “how do I make this person a fan of our company?”. Until I am given evidence otherwise, I will tell each person who asks me about car insurance to call AAMI. My circle of friends is one that AAMI stand to get a lot of business from.

3. You ARE being talked about. You’re either a participant in the conversation or you are a deer in headlights

My initial episode of being contacted by Vodafone UK showed how easy it was for the conversations you have to get out there; there being the wide open spaces of the inter-webs. I’m going to get in touch with the Vodafone UK people with a view to interviewing them on their approach to online media and how those interactions are changing the way they do business. While it wasn’t an optimal outcome for them, they showed it wasn’t hard to find the conversations going on and get involved, and I imagine they do that countless times a day. The fact is somebody somewhere is having a less than optimal experience with your product, brand or service right now; how much you care about making that better is in direct correlation to how much you care about being around in five years.

Consumers are changing their behaviour, demanding more and rightfully so. The companies that take the time to get this right have a much easier road ahead of them. By the token that money doesn’t make you happy but it does give you the opportunity to worry about other things, getting your customer service offering in order means your attention can be focussed on innovation in other areas of your business. And your competitors get left for dead.

Even Rome fell my friends.

I twittered this morning about how there were two books being read, one newspaper and a magazine but I was the only one reading from a BlackBerry on my way to work, a timely reminder that if you don’t pop your head outside the bubble (no, not that kind of bubble…) every now and then, your perception of reality can be so far off as to be unrecognisable.

ANYWAY, cue quote: “We have built this from a brand owner’s perspective.” Paul Hurley, CEO of Ideeli, quote found by way of GigaOM. No. No no no. No no no no no no no. How many times do we need to go through this? To shamelessly mis-quote Bono, the war is over, we don’t need your help, the brands are waging war on themselves. I saw a great quote yesterday I wish I could remember where, it was essentially “Newsflash – we’re not markets, we’re people.” I was somewhat disheartened to see they had raised capital while spouting utter crap like that, but $3.8 million doesn’t actually get you all that far these days, so I welcome a post in the not too distant future from Mike Arrington announcing a descent into the deadpool. I don’t ever wish failure on anyone, unless their thinking is so far behind that some sort of Darwinian theory for business must be invoked.

Making me feel better though is this and this. The former taking Web 2.0 enhancements with you wherever you go (equal parts crucial and awesome) and the latter an ode to the 60-year old transistor and a pondering of how long Moore’s Law can hold out. Both take us closer to a mobile future, and my experience on the tram this morning will surely become a thing of the past sooner rather than later. We’ll then find out if you can indeed have too much of a good thing.