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Tag: communication

Show Notes: TED Talk on Face to Face Communication

On being there in person, getting face to face, and falling back to simple video communication when time and distance keep us apart.

I enjoyed the privilege of producing and delivering a TED talk on these themes at the inaugural TEDxUCCS.

Right off the top: Thank you to EPIIC and UCCS for inviting me to participate.

Rather than provide a written version of the talk, I’m borrowing a concept from some of my favorite podcasts – the recording itself, plus “show notes.”

Included in these notes:

  • Links to ideas used to construct the presentation
  • Info and credits for the photos in the slide deck
  • Additional, related links
  • A few closing thanks

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Customers Just Want to Know What’s Going On

When you place an order with Amazon, you immediately receive an email confirming the order.  You receive another to let you know when it’s been shipped.  You can track its progress all the way to your door.  As a customer, you know what’s going on from beginning to end with updates throughout the process.

Even Domino’s Pizza lets you track your order from confirmation through prep, baking, quality checking and completion.  “Hey, look!  Rick just put my pizza in the oven!”

Among the many observations my wife shared with me from her years as a flight attendant is that customers don’t expect the mechanical delay to be fixed in an instant.  Instead, they just want to know what’s going on.  What’s the problem?  How long until it’s fixed?  When will we be taking off?  How late to my destination should I expect to be?  Has the status of the problem changed?

The same is true under crew, weather or any other kind of delay.  The rising anxiety of passengers was slightly diminished each time more information was shared.  On occasion, she’d been explicitly told how nice and helpful it was to know what was happening.

This is also a basic rule of crisis management within public relations.  Share what you know, when you know it.  Be honest.  Be clear.  Be informative.

Now to my motivation to put this little post together: my 2003 Volkswagen Jetta was recently hosted by the local Volkswagen dealer’s service department for three entire days.  During this time, I had to initiate every single piece of communication.  This poor customer service was acknowledged by the fact that they took $100 off the final bill.

VW, Volkswagen, Jetta, engine, car, 2.0, 2002, 2003, under the hood

The Bob Penkus VW Service Department should share what they know when they know it.

Situation and Timeline

The car would not start properly on a Wednesday morning.  We got it jumped, then I dropped it off with them at 7:45am.  To be fair, I did not have an appointment.  I characterized the problem as a failing battery and noted that we still had a temperature light flashing (it’d been looked at before but never solved).

I didn’t expect to have the car back by noon.  I did expect to hear something that day, though.  I called at 5pm to learn that, of course, it wouldn’t be ready.

On Thursday, I didn’t hear anything, so I gave them a call at 3pm.  A new battery was definitely needed and they were “looking around” for one.  They were still looking into the flashing light.

I left a voice mail message at 5:30pm and again at 6pm to see if they’d found and installed a battery.  I got a call back at 6:15pm and learned that: I had two choices of battery, they’d solved the flashing light, they’d found that the oil filter leaked and they wanted to change my timing belt.  Also: no work had yet been performed.  And: no costs were mentioned until I specifically asked about them.  Even then, the whole package was positioned at once ($1,200), rather than as a series of options.

So after 5pm on two consecutive nights, it was up to the customer to figure out if he’d need to line up an alternative ride home from work that evening and back to work the next morning.

On that callback, I said yes to $400 in work – new VW battery, new oil filter and new coolant return thing that solved the flashing and beeping with which we’d been greeted every cold morning.  I said no to the $800 timing belt change (I’ll get that done elsewhere, even though they price match).  I was assured the work would be performed first thing in the morning and that the service manager would call me as soon as the car was ready.

I heard nothing all Friday morning, so I gave them a call at 1pm.  The person handling my visit was not in, so someone else said she’d check with the technician and call me back right away.

At 2:15pm, having heard nothing, I called again.  I was told that the car should be ready by 4:45 or 4:50pm.

The Bottom Line

Voice mail messages unreturned.  Broken promises of calls back.  All information pulled by the customer rather than pushed by the service department.

I don’t expect them to work miracles.  I don’t expect to drop in without an appointment and be first in line.  I only expect to know what’s going on.

Customers should be presented with choices and associated costs when decisions need to be made.  Customers should not be left to wonder what’s happening.

Phone call, email, text message, anything – let customers know what’s going on.  The customer experience is made much more positive … and you’re more likely to collect full price for services rendered.

Shallow Analysis: PETA’s Circus Protest

In a way, this functions as a follow-up to the previous post about a marketing tactic employed by the Zeitgeist Movement of Colorado.  As in that case, the ideas marketed here lie outside the mainstream.  Unlike the Zeitgeist folks, the organization at work here is extremely well funded and celebrity fronted.

We experienced today in Colorado Springs the same thing many have experienced in cities across the country – a protest of the cruel “entertainment” that is Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which happens to be coming to town.

Protesting is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  As the elephant’s sign reads: Circuses are No Fun for Animals.  The message is directed toward elementary school children and delivered on public property.

Here’s a shallow analysis.

PETA Circus Protest Colorado Springs Elephant Cruel Cruelty

PETA Circus Protest - Colorado Springs - Elephant

How it’s executed (approximately):

  • PETA gets Ringling Brothers tour schedule
  • PETA precedes the circus, city to city
  • PETA distributes material outside a local elementary school in each city
  • PETA alerts the local media in advance of protest
  • Local media swarms, story’s a good “talker” that elicits strong opinions
  • Conversation ensues

This execution is nicely focused.  They’re timely and topical with the elephant costume, signs, coloring books and more.  Preceding the circus with this message should influence the buying decision.

Commercials to get people to the circus have been running heavily on television here for at least a week; the circus is due in town in a week and a half.  As school’s wrapping up, kids may be talking about the circus.  Parents are probably in active consideration of whether or not to cough up the $100+ it costs to take a family of four to the circus.

There’s no question that this is effective in drawing attention to PETA and to the circus.  What is in question is what kind of attention does it draw – what kind of conversation does it start?

PETA Circus Protest Colorado Springs Cruel Cruelty

PETA Circus Protest - Colorado Springs

This strikes me as a case in which the discussion is limited to the organization itself, rather than to the specific topic and its related issues.  Alignments are basic:

  • People who believe animals are grossly mistreated and need a human voice for justice and protection
  • People who think animal rights people are moronic nut jobs and are perfectly satisfied with the status quo
  • People who take issue with directing the message toward young children outside their schools

Meanwhile, just how humane or horrific is the treatment of animals within the circus?  What are the consequences of training of large, wild beasts to perform unnatural tasks for our amusement?  What amount of money or entertainment value justifies any form of mistreatment?  The discussion never gets this deep.

Instead, it’s more basically about PETA – simply a love ’em or hate ’em alignment, plus a faction against their tactics in general.  It’s provocative.  It’s a continuation and refinement of their guerilla tactics.

This is not necessarily a bad outcome for PETA, especially if you subscribe to the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” philosophy.  Their name passed thousands of lips yesterday.  Because of the timely and topical nature of their message, some share of those people whose attention they got may have “converted” – evaluating the “circus is cruel” message and tending to accept or agree.

In conclusion and a bit from left field:  the difference between zealotry and simply spreading the word is defined by whether or not we agree with the message.

Link: local story at with a couple dozen comments

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